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Delta Vision Task Force Proposes Peripheral Canal, More Dams

by Dan Bacher

October 16, 2008 -- Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force will release its final recommendations today and tomorrow in West Sacramento. Unfortunately, the supposedly "independent" body is releasing a strategic plan that recommends 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. 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 today's Sacramento Bee http://www.sacbee.com/1190/story/1317793.html. "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 Governor Arnold 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," http://www.pacinst.org/reports/more_with_less_delta/index.htm?
) 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."

Isenberg and other task force members will unveil their plan at the task force meeting and in a press conference scheduled 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's 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.

Public comment will be allowed from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. today and from 11 a.m. to noon Friday. The meeting will be held at West Sacramento City Hall Galleria, 1110 West Capitol Avenue, West Sacramento, CA.

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!

Here is the task force's press advisory. I plan to be there and will report back on what transpires.


For Immediate Release October 14, 2008? Contact: Scott Miller (206) 972-8244? Keith Coolidge (916) 275-6809

Delta Vision Task Force Media Availability Friday

Delta Vision Strategic Plan is a statewide blueprint for a sustainable Delta

On Friday, October 17, Governor Schwarzenegger's Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force members will hold a news conference to discuss the Delta Vision Strategic Plan following the group's final comments as the plan is completed.

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's extraordinary environment.

WHAT: Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force News Conference

WHEN: Following the Task Force meeting on October 17, at approximately 2:30 p.m.

IN PERSON: West Sacramento City Hall Galleria
1110 West Capitol Avenue
West Sacramento, CA

ON THE WEB: http://www.visualwebcaster.com/event.asp?regd=y&id=46197

BY PHONE: 1-888-821-9349, passcode: 546058

WHO: Members of the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force, including: Phil Isenberg, Chair, Monica Florian, Richard Frank, Thomas McKernan, Sunne Wright McPeak, William Reilly, Raymond Seed, Ph.D., John Kirlin, Executive Director

Excellent video and interview opportunities. B-roll (beta) available upon request. A press release will be sent around 2:30 p.m. on Friday, October 17.