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Panama Canal North?

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator Dianne Feinstein, corporate agribusiness and other supporters of the peripheral canal around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta have carefully avoided discussing what an actual canal would look like, as well as its enormous environmental impacts and budget-busting cost to the taxpayers.

However, in the size and scope of the project, it would be very similar to the Panama Canal, according to recent comments by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan on the floor on the floor when she and other legislators were asked to vote on a bill to fund a committee to develop a plan to implement the Delta Vision recommendations.

The recommendations call for a “conveyance” that will transport 15,000 cubic feet of water per second (cfs) from the Sacramento River around the Delta, according to Buchanan. This is smaller than the proposed 1982 peripheral canal that was intended to transport 22,000 cfs.

During drought years, the Sacramento River does not have 15,000 cfs. flow for over half the year. In 2007, the flow exceeded 15,000 cfs. in three months with the highest month at 22,500 cfs.

“Based on an engineering report completed in 2006, a conveyance to transport 15,000 cfs. would be between 500 and 700 feet wide requiring a 1300 foot right-of-way,” said Buchanan. “That’s the width of a 100 lane freeway! The length of the conveyance would be 48 miles. By comparison the Panama Canal is between 500 and 1000 feet wide and is 50 miles long.”

“I’m not going to vote for a plan that builds a Panama Canal down the middle of the 15th Assembly District!” concluded Buchanan.

The Governor’s Delta Vision Task Force and Bay Delta Conservation Plan both recommend the construction of a “peripheral canal” and more reservoirs designed to export more water from senior water rights holders in the Delta and Sacramento Valley to junior water rights holders that irrigate drainage-impaired, selenium-filled land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. Although the Delta Vision Task Force’s report recommended that less water be exported out of the Delta to help the estuary’s collapsing ecosystem, canal opponents note that the construction of a canal with increased water export capacity would inevitably be used to export more water out of the system.

I have repeatedly asked canal advocates to give me one example, in U.S. or world history, where the construction of a big diversion canal has resulted in less water being taken out of a river system. I have also asked them to give me one example, in U.S. or world history, where the construction of a big diversion canal has resulted in a restored or improved ecosystem. None of the canal backers have been able to answer either one of these two questions.

The push to build a peripheral canal occurs as Central Valley and Delta fish populations are in their greatest-ever crisis. Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish populations have declined to record low population levels in recent years, due to increased water exports and declining water quality. A broad coalition of Delta family farmers, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, grassroots environmentalists and California Indian Tribes is opposing the peripheral canal because it is expected to push imperiled fish species over the abyss of extinction.

Schwarzenegger has cynically tried to link a deal to remove four aging dams on the Klamath River, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Corporation, to a water bond including a peripheral canal and more dams. However, the Klamath Riverkeeper and other Klamath Basin stakeholders oppose tying the dam removal project to the construction of new dams in the Central Valley and a peripheral canal as a proposed general obligation water bond would do.

“California must support Klamath dam removal on its own merits,” said Georgiana Myers, Klamath Riverkeeper Community Organizer and Yurok Tribal Member. “The Klamath dam removal deal has received support from Oregon with Senate Bill 76, and now we need Governor Schwarzenegger to step up.”

Meanwhile, the word from the California State Capitol last week was that a combined hearing by the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee and the Senate Natural Resources Committee regarding a host of water bills would take place on July 7, in Room 4202 at 9 a.m. However, now there is talk of the committee meeting being rescheduled for July 9. “Neither date has been finalized, making the date a ‘moving target,’ intentionally making it difficult for the public to plan to attend the hearing,” said John Beuttler, conservation director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

“These committees plan to establish a ‘Delta Water Package’ that would lay the groundwork for a Dual Conveyance Facility to move water both through and around the Delta,” said Beuttler. “Unfortunately, as of now, we haven’t been told exactly what bills will make the final package. However, it is understood that the bill or bills will contain a $15-20 billion dollar water bond to pay for infrastructure improvements that are likely to include the peripheral canal and at least two dams.”

A big turnout of people opposed to the canal and more dams is needed at the upcoming hearing. For the latest action alerts on the movement to stop the peripheral canal and more dams, go to the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA): http://www.calsport.org.

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

 

 

 

 

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Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher danielbacher@fishsniffer.com.

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