Down on the farm - Page 2

How California water policy wiped out highly productive farming and fishing on one delta island

On Sherman Island, cow pastures have replaced productive agricultural lands

"Compared to the San Joaquin Valley, the vast amount of acreage out there, the people that they employ, and the business compared to the delta, we're kind of a drop in the bucket," Del Chiaro noted. "Still, there are the businesses in the delta that basically survive off of our farming operation."

Sherman Island is more well-known to recreational boaters and travelers, and Chris and Dawn Gulick provide a place for delta vacationers at Eddo's Harbor & RV Park, located on Gallagher Slough on the east side of the island. Eddo's wasn't always a harbor and RV park — when Chris Gulick's father started the business in 1967, fishing was the primary attraction and the small harbor maintained a fleet of fishing boats for rent. The State Water Project came online around the same time, marking the beginning of freshwater pumping out of the delta.

As delta water quality worsened over the years, there were fewer fish to be caught, so over the decades it became less practical to maintain the fishing vessels. Today, the fishing boats have been sold, and Eddo's primarily gets its business from recreational boaters looking for guest slips or travelers who find their way to the quiet waterfront park to stay in their RVs.

Chris Gulick emphasized the larger picture during an interview about water issues in the delta, but he acknowledged that his business had been affected by what he saw as the state's misguided water policies. "When we got here, the striped bass fishery was robust," he said, "and it slowly has declined, and it steadily has declined."

Gulick said countless experts and researchers had been in and out of the delta over the years, but he felt that the core problem had to do with governance of the system and the fact that water agencies had over-promised the water.

"The problem with the delta, or the water situation, is that the people that are in policy and are writing these guidelines don't have a vested interest," he said. "A lot of them don't know a whole lot about this, but they're the experts. They're the ones who are supposed to be writing the plans. They don't have a clue — and that is a prevalent attitude to the experts who come out and talk to us."