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Schwarzenegger’s Delta Vision: Canals and Dams

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force will release the final “strategic plan” for the California Delta today at its meeting in West Sacramento. Unfortunately, the supposedly “independent” body is recommending a new version of a bad old idea – the peripheral canal that California voters broadly defeated in 1982.

The task force is recommending “dual conveyance” facilities that will result in the destruction of the California Delta as an estuary – and seal the doom of Central Valley fall run chinook salmon and Delta smelt, longfin smelt, threadfin shad, striped bass and other fish populations. This plan will have catastrophic consequences up and down the West Coast, since the Delta is the largest and most significant estuary on the Pacific Coast. The San Francisco Bay-San Joaquin Delta is a nursery, spawning ground and migratory corridor for an array of species, including fall, spring and winter run chinook salmon, steelhead, white sturgeon, green sturgeon, striped bass, delta smelt, longfin smelt, threadfin shad, Sacramento splittail, Dungeness crab and herring.

Salmon fishing in ocean waters off the California and Oregon is closed this year, due to the collapse of Central Valley fall run chinook populations spurred by record water exports out of the Delta and other factors. The closure has caused economic devastation in coastal communities up and down the coast.

The strategic plan’s latest draft contains seven broad goals and dozens of objectives to reach these goals. One of the goals is to “build facilities to improve the existing water conveyance system and expand statewide storage, and operate both to achieve the co-equal goal.”

“Over the next decade or two, the state must have new water storage, above and below ground, and must also build new Delta water conveyance facilities,” said Phil Isenberg, the task force chair, in an editorial in Thursday’s Sacramento Bee. “The task force prefers the ‘dual conveyance’ approach, where water is transported both through and around the Delta.”

Unfortunately, the task force recommendations, although including some “restoration” language in an attempt to make it more palatable to environmental and fishing groups, are essentially doing the same thing that Schwarzenegger and Senator Diane Feinstein are doing in campaigning for their water bond proposal – pushing for the building of more dams and a peripheral canal.

Advocating the building of more reservoirs and a canal around the delta is premised on the “need” for more water exports from the Delta – when what we really need, in order to restore imperiled fisheries, is to export less water out of the Delta by taking drainage impaired land in the San Joaquin Valley out of production. After all, 80 to 85 percent of water exported from the Delta by the federal and state projects is used for agribusiness.

A recently published report by the Pacific Institute,”More with Less: Agricultural Water Conservation and Efficiency in California,” concluded that efficient technologies and management practices and implementing feasible policy changes can maintain a strong agricultural economy while reducing the need for Delta exports. These measures could save 3.4 million acre feet or more of water. The report also noted that recent court decisions from lawsuits filed by Earthjustice, Friends of the River, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, NRDC and others and scientific assessments all recognize that Delta exports must be reduced.

Gary Mulcahy, Governmental Liaison of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe and a member of the task force stakeholders group, strongly criticized the inclusion of “dual conveyance” in the plan. “The Tribe has opposed, now opposes and will continue to oppose any plan that includes a peripheral canal,” he said. “Whether you call the canal a peripheral canal or dual conveyance, any plan that removes water from the system before getting to the Delta is stupid and ridiculous because it will greatly impact the Delta ecosystem and food chain.”

After being a member of the stakeholders group for two years, Mulcahy said he was frustrated how the dual conveyance proposal appeared to be a foregone conclusion of the task force. “Over half the stakeholders supported an in-Delta conveyance proposal that would build gates on Old and Middle Rivers, but the task force apparently threw this out,” he said.

“From the very beginning there was a stong preference by the task force for dual conveyance as an end point,” Mulcahy emphasized. “In every revision and draft of notes from our meetings, it was apparent that dual conveyance was being promoted by the people doing the documentation – the Center for Collaborative Policy and a contractor from U.C. Berkeley. The task force had a real opportunity to do something good and right and they discarded it for a predetermined target. I think we wasted two years of hard work.”

Roger Mammon, recreational angler and board member of Restore the Delta, emphasized that the decline of the California Delta ecosystem can easily be traced. “All one has to do is compare fishery abundance prior to the state and federal water projects and then compare the decline of fisheries next to charts showing how exports were increased over the past 50 years,” stated Mammon. “Yet our tax dollars are paying for scientists who tell us there is no evidence that water exports have harmed the fisheries and ecosystem.”

“The Strategic Plan does nothing but insure clean water exports south at the expense and unltimate demise of the largest tidal estuary on the West Coast of the Americas,” Mammon concluded. “It is a crime against nature.”

Isenberg and other task force members will unveil their plan at the task force meeting and in a press conference scheduled today at 2:30 p.m. “A comprehensive set of recommendations designed to ensure long-term sustainable management of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the plan sets forth a strategy to secure a reliable water supply for California, and protect the Delta‚Äôs extraordinary environment,” according to the press advisory.

Members of the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force, including Isenberg, Monica Florian, Richard Frank, Thomas McKernan, Sunne Wright McPeak, William Reilly, Raymond Seed, Ph.D., and John Kirlin, Executive Director, will all attend the news conference.

After the panel releases its final plan during its two-day meeting, the two-volume document will be sent to a committee of four state cabinet members and the president of the California Public Utilities Commission. That committee is expected to make recommendations to Schwarzenegger by December 31 of this year.

Everybody who cares about the future of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and its precious and imperiled fish populations should challenge the task force recommendations. The task force’s “new” proposals are nothing other than tired, old plans, masked in deceiving “eco-friendly” language, to bail out corporate agribusiness from decades of unsustainable use of selenium-laced soil that should have never been irrigated!

As Steve Evans, conservation director of Friends of the River, says, “New dams and the Peripheral Canal truly represent a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem.”

For more information about the battle to save California fisheries, go to www.calsport.org.

DAN BACHER can be reached at: Danielbacher@fishsniffer.com