Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Peripheral Canal

This article by R.V. Scheide from the Sacramento News & Review is just about one of the best articles I have read in a long time about California water and the canal; which makes sense, as it is from someone who grew up around dams, understanding their utility, and only later came to doubt the whole process of changing the California desert into the world’s breadbasket after reading Cadillac Desert, which changed a lot of otherwise entirely sensible people’s opinions, though The Great Thirst, Californians and Water: A History, is a much better resource.

But the talk goes on and one hopes public leadership soon realizes that we really do need that canal.

The author’s dad is right.

An excerpt.

“Two-thirds of the state’s population, 25 million people, depends on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta for at least some of their water supply. Water from the Delta irrigates 3 million agricultural acres. California’s economic growth depends upon its ability to provide water for future population growth. But the Delta’s levees and ecosystem are rapidly deteriorating, threatening to completely cut off the Bay Area and Southern California’s water supply, crashing the economy and potentially endangering millions of people.

“Right this minute, legislators are working feverishly to address the crisis before the end of the session. One proposed solution: a peripheral canal bypassing the Delta.

“Yes, one of California’s longest-simmering water feuds has once again attained full boil. For more than a half century, skirmishes over the peripheral canal have pitted Northern Californians against Southern Californians, farmers against developers, environmentalists against politicians.

“The divisions go further than that; internecine politics and unlikely bedfellows have always played a role in California’s water wars. The debate can get ugly, and has even been known to divide father and son.

“Trust me on that one. I know from personal experience.

“According to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force, approximately one-third of the Delta’s inflows are siphoned off by upstream, downstream and in-Delta water users. From Redding to Los Angeles, everyone’s got a straw in this thing.

“It’s one big suck.

“But the task force says we need even more water from the Delta if California’s economy is to continue to grow. That’s problematic because we’ve turned the largest
estuary on the West Coast into our own personal toilet.

“The Delta is in an ecological tailspin,” the task force reports. “Invasive species, water pumping facilities, urban growth and urban and agricultural pollution are degrading water quality and threatening multiple fish species with extinction.”

“Throw in global warming, sea-level rise, increasingly brackish water, crumbling levees, frequent droughts and the occasional earthquake, and it’s not so hard to understand the panel’s sense of urgency.

“The proposed canal would draw water directly from the Sacramento River near Freeport and “convey” it 50 miles south, around the eastern edge of the battered ecosystem to the massive state and federal pumping stations near Tracy.

“Think of it as open heart surgery, only on a grander scale.

“That’s kind of the way engineers look at it. But opponents of the long-sought-after peripheral canal see things differently. To them, it’s a knife that stabs deep into the heart of the Delta.

“I grew up on dams and water projects. My father is a retired power-plant operator. Dad got out of the Navy when I was 9, and we moved to Idaho, my mom’s home state. He quickly gained a job with Idaho Power in American Falls, where for the next several years we lived right next to the power plant downstream from the dam that backs the Snake River into the 30-mile-long American Falls Reservoir."