Stealth legislation unveiled: A road map to the peripheral canal

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The stealth package of water bills proceeding through the California Legislature comprise a virtual road map to the peripheral canal – an expensive and environmentally destructive project that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and California legislators have been relentlessly campaigning for over the past two years.

A broad coalition of recreational fishing groups, commercial fishing organizations, Delta farmers, American Indian tribes and environmentalists are strongly opposing the canal, a bad idea that was voted down overwhelmingly by California voters in 1982.

The five bills that were gutted and passed out of Policy Committees have now been reformatted and released, according to Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

“They will be headed to a joint conference committee and then moved to the floor of the respective houses for a vote.” CSPA has quickly reviewed the reformatted bills and issued the following initial reaction.

“As expected, the five bills comprise a road map to a peripheral canal,” Jennings said. “In a stunning abdication of legislative responsibility and due diligence, the package authorizes the creation of a Delta Stewardship Council comprised of four members appointed by the governor, two from the legislature and the chairperson of the Delta Protection Commission.”

The council would have authority to implement a peripheral canal and assess fees and issue bonds to pay for it. “In other words, our legislature proposes to allow the governor, who strenuously advocates building a peripheral canal, the authority to appoint a majority of members to a council that has authority to build and fund it,” Jennings explained.

The five bills are: AB 39, the Delta Plan (Huffman), AB 49, Water Conservation (Feuer), SB 12, Delta Governance (Simitian), SB 229, Water Use Reporting (Pavley) and SB 458, Delta Conservancy (Wolk).

“Collectively, the bills are a legislative shell game that raises bureaucratic mumbo jumbo to an art form,” Jennings said. “While there are some good things to like (i.e., no new dams, conservation, and beneficiary pays principle), the total package is a bureaucratic nightmare and a Valhalla for attorneys.

“It pays lip service to fish and Delta restoration, turns the water code upside down, places a financial and water burden on the most senior upstream water rights holders and will double or triple water rates for those least able to pay – in order to subsidize the guarantee of water to the most junior water rights holders that grow subsidized crops on drainage impaired lands on the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley; lands that when irrigated leach toxic wastes back to the San Joaquin River and Delta.”

Jennings compares the poorly-conceived, fast-tracked peripheral canal legislation to the energy deregulation fiasco that was pushed by legislators and corporate-funded “environmental” groups under the Pete Wilson administration, resulting in power black outs and dramatic power rate hikes through unscrupulous gaming of the market by energy companies including Exxon and Reliant Energy.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, through its chief energy spokesperson Ralph Cavanagh, played a key role in drafting, passing and defending the energy deregulation bill that passed through the legislature in 1996, according to “Unnatural Disaster: Deregulated California Utilities are Electrocuting the Public,” by Harvey Wasserman, 2001.

“In sum, the package reminds us of the time the legislature panicked and rushed into energy deregulation without thoughtfully considering the consequences,” Jennings said. “But, energy deregulation only cost us $43 billion. This package may end up costing us that much and kill the Delta, northern California fisheries and Delta farming along the way.”

A water bond including a peripheral canal would cost anywhere from $10 billion to 40 billion today and much more over the 30 years trying to pay it back, according to Steve Evans, conservation director of Friends of the River. However, the cost to the commercial and recreational fishing industries and Delta farmers affected by the building of “Arnold’s Big Ditch” would be billions and billions of dollars more. And the cost of driving endangered species, including Central Valley Chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and the southern resident population of killer whales over the edge of extinction would be incalculable.

The peripheral canal would be approximately the size and length of the Panama Canal. The canal would have the capacity to transport 15,000 cubic feet of water per second (cfs) from the Sacramento River around the Delta. A conveyance to transport 15,000 cfs would be between 500 and 700 feet wide, requiring a 1,300-foot right of way, based on an engineering report completed in 2006 by Washington Group International for the State Water Contractors. That’s the width of a 100-lane freeway.

The length of the conveyance would be between 47 and 48 miles. By comparison, the Panama Canal is between 500 and 1000 feet wide and is 50 miles long.

The current plan for “improved conveyance” under the Delta Vision and Bay Delta Conservation Plan processes is for “dual conveyance,” consisting of a through Delta route teamed up with the peripheral canal. Two routes for the peripheral canal are proposed – a western route and an eastern route.

The Department of Water Resources will begin drilling in river bottoms at 16 locations for proposed canal intakes on the Sacramento, Mokelumne and San Joaquin Rivers starting this month. This drilling follows land-based surveys by DWR being done under the BDCP.

Canal opponents from throughout northern California held a Million Boat Float from Antioch to Sacramento Aug. 16 and 17 to save the California Delta and stop the construction of the peripheral canal. For more information, visit www.millionboatfloat.org.

For the latest updates on the Delta stealth legislation package, visit the CSPA Web site.