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 canalBy 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.