A South Bay Perspective: Delta Bills, Part III

Where the Merced and San Joaquin Rivers merge into one.
Where the Merced and San Joaquin Rivers merge into one.

This is the third in a series of postings on conflicting perspectives about the five Delta-related water bills now under discussion in Sacramento.

I am not providing the opinions I’ll pass on over the next few days to validate them or my own perspective, but provide them to help you understand a few other perspectives. Each of them make some good points and miss the mark on others (in my opinion). I’ll let you decide which is which.

Today’s blog posting is a perspective published in the San Jose Mercury News.

Opinion: The South Bay needs the Delta peripheral canal

By Gerald H. Meral
Special to the Mercury News
Posted: 08/24/2009 08:00:00 PM PDT


Farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta are trying to convince other Northern Californians that the Peripheral Canal would be bad. But the narrow interests of the farmers do not coincide with the interests of people who live in the South Bay.

The governor is asking for a $10 billion bond act to build more dams. But the real problem, one that dams cannot solve, is the way water moves through the delta from the dams on the Sacramento River to water-users in the South Bay.

The delta, the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, is degrading our water supply, and it is dangerously unreliable. The Legislature is properly focused on this issue, not marginally usable new dams.

The Peripheral Canal would divert water from the Sacramento River near Sacramento and move it to state and federal water pumps in the Southern delta near Tracy. These pumps supply the Santa Clara Valley with about half our water.

Today, water from the Sacramento River flows through the delta to the pumps. This greatly degrades the quality of the water. Irrigation wastewater is pumped into the delta channels from the irrigated islands. Seawater intrudes into the delta. This doubles the pollution load of the water and adds chemicals which cause cancer (trimhalomethane precursors).

The water supply is also at risk due to the shaky delta levees. Many levees have collapsed over the years, and they are vulnerable to flooding, earthquakes and sea level rise due to climate change.

The University of California says that the risk of massive levee collapse in the next few decades is 60 percent.

If large numbers of delta levees collapse, the South Bay water supply from the Federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project would be interrupted for at least two years. This would cut local water supplies by half or more, causing severe rationing. All outdoor watering would be banned, among other restrictions.

Moving the water through the delta also causes environmental problems. Flows in the channels are reversed as water is drawn south to the pumps, causing problems with reproduction and migration of salmon, sturgeon, steelhead and other native fishes such as the Delta Smelt.

Millions of young fish are sucked up and killed by the pumps. The Peripheral Canal would end this problem by restoring the natural flow direction in the delta channels.

Delta farmers like the current situation, since they pay nothing for their unlimited water supply. When a levee breaks, the state and federal governments pay to repair it, because levees are often needed to keep the state and federal water flowing through the delta.

The farmers oppose the Peripheral Canal because if it were built, they would be limited to just the water they have a right to divert, and they would have to pay more to fix broken levees.

Some people are concerned because the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California also rely in part on the delta water supplies. If the Peripheral Canal were built, the political power of the South might create incentives to divert too much water from the Sacramento River, harming the ecology of the delta and the San Francisco Bay.

To address this concern, a coalition of fish and wildlife agencies, conservation groups and water districts are developing a Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which would require sufficient water flows through the delta to restore endangered fish populations.

Senator Joe Simitian of Santa Clara County is taking a leadership position on this important issue and deserves the thanks of his constituents for his hard and effective work on water issues.

GERALD H. MERAL, Ph.D., is the former deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources. He wrote this article for the Mercury News.

2 thoughts on “A South Bay Perspective: Delta Bills, Part III

  1. Not being an English major I hope to be able to communicate my thoughts in a somewhat reasonable and coherent manner. My first thought is to address the statement regarding "the narrow interests of farmers". I truly believe that the vast majority of farmer's main goal and purpose is to provide for the health and well-being of their family and community. (Community no being defined as their own little world.) Included of course it to provide a safe and affordable food and fiber source for a rapidly growing population.

    My next concern has to be the lack of water storage. Most years the great majority of precipitation from mother nature goes unused and damages cities, towns, and farmland as it travels unheeded or controlled to the ocean. Think of the damage to property and the huge waste of much needed water. If our state had an adequate water storage and conveyance system many problems could be diverted. We can not have a stable food supply without both! Adequate storage and a separate delivery system are words that can be used in the same sentence or the same page.
    When the University of California system states that "massive levee collapses in the next few decades is 60%" . What does that mean? I am 50 years old, the levee system is three times that age. I don't have a lot of hope that I will not need adjustments in decades to come. Why should the current levee system be any different? As we speak there are federal stimulus monies being spent on shoring up and improving the delta system.

    I will agree with the author that if a large number of levees do collapse that the South Bay is in trouble. However, they are not the only ones who will suffer. Thus… the need to provide more storage to control the amounts of water heading downstream and into the system. Storage means… There when you need it. Hold it if you don't.

    Last and certainly not least is the fact the way too much emphasis is being placed on protecting and preserving fish and wildlife. When do the concerns of species ( just a tool) out weigh our ability to survive; let alone flourish? Remember that agriculture's goal is to provide a safe, reliable and affordable source of food and fiber. They need all available tools to succeed in that awe inspiring task.


    1. You communicated very well, my friend. Thanks for weighing in on this. Hope to see some of you TCFB members at our meeting on Tuesday – VERY important! Thanks, Stan!


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