About two-thirds of Californians rely on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta for water, but a new report by the State Water Board finds residents need to severely cut back on its use, leaving water for the fragile delta to survive.
"If you don't change anything else, it's going to take more water to restore the eco-system of the delta," Bill Rukeyser from the California Water Board said.
Diverting water for decades has been blamed for changing the delta's salinity and flow, contributing to the system's overall degradation.
To restore the delta solely based on water flow alone, the report says, sending water supplies downstream to the Central Valley and Southern California could be reduced by one-third and north of the delta to the Bay Area, deliveries could be slashed 70 percent.
Cutbacks are already happening to deal with the three-year drought and to save the endangered delta smelt. If delta supplies are limited, where else can the thirsty state get water for its residents and farms?
Water agencies say there is nowhere else to get water and that the report isn't meant to be implemented on its own, pointing out it doesn't even have any regulatory clout.
"The more you cutback, obviously, the more challenges you have. We have to find something that works and balances both water supply and the ecosystem," Jeff Kightlinger from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California said.
Still, environmentalists warn the findings can't just be dismissed because water flow is a major part of the delta's problems.
"Flow is probably the one part of the eco-system that we have affected the most. We have changed the flows of our system more than we've actually polluted it and as much as we've destroyed habitat," Gary Bobker from The Bay Institute said.
The report will be forwarded to the Delta Stewardship Council, which has the tough job of finding solutions that considers nature's and people's needs.