Push for Peripheral Canal in California Ignites Grassroots Uprising


Over 40 people from the Sacramento area and Delta held a lively protest in front of the office of California Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg in Sacramento on Friday, September 4 to protest the dangerous Delta water legislation that Steinberg is trying to ram through the State Capitol.

The protesters, the majority of whom reside in Steinberg’s Senate District 6, have started a grassroots uprising to stop Steinberg’s mad rush to build a peripheral canal without regard for the concerns of his constituents.

The Delta advocates held multi-colored signs featuring a number of slogans including "Stop Steinberg's Peripheral Canal," "Steinberg's Water Package Hurts Californians," "No Peripheral Canal” and “No Legislation Without Representation.”

"We are alarmed at how the current package of five water bills is being pushed through the Legislature without consideration for the many concerns of Delta and northern California residents," said Barbara Daly, Delta farmland owner, of Save the Delta. "We are protesting the legislation's ceding of control of our water to only 7 political appointees on a governance committee that could approve the building of a peripheral canal."

They are outraged that not one of the 14 members of the Conference Committee selected this week by Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass represent the heart of the Delta or are committed to protecting the West Coast's largest estuary.

“Steinberg purposely kept Senator Lois Wolk, Assemblymember Mariko Yamada and other Delta legislators off the Committee,” said David Kopp, who owns land near the Sacramento River. “Steinberg is preaching that he is the voice of the Delta on the committee when he has said nothing in favor of protecting us and the Delta.”

Daly, Kopp and other Delta advocates are urging Steinberg to delay action on the bills until the next legislative session so that the concerns of his constituents and other Delta residents are properly addressed.

Delta advocates characterize the water deal as “backdoor attack” on 130 years of California water law and legal precedent and the Public Trust Doctrine. They believe the bill package aims to take water from senior water rights holders in the California Delta and northern California to be delivered to junior water rights holders irrigating selenium-filled soil on the San Joaquin Valley’s west side.

The protest took place as Central Valley salmon, green sturgeon, delta smelt, Sacramento splittail, striped bass, American shad and other Delta fish populations have declined to record low population levels, due to increased water exports out of the Delta in recent years. Peripheral canal opponents believe that a canal will only exacerbate the fish population collapse and threaten Delta farms by increasing water exports from the Delta.

“Fish mean jobs to many of us,” said Mali Currington of Sacramento, who brought his two daughters, Layla and Mali, and his cousin, Tracie Murphy of Sacramento, to the protest. “Fish create thousands of jobs on the Delta, including the jobs of those working in bait shops, sporting good stores, on charter boats and at resorts and marinas throughout the region. When you manufacture a drought by emptying northern California lakes and reservoirs for water exports like the state and federal governments did over the past two years, you cause jobs to be lost.”

The collapse of Central Valley Chinook salmon has devastated fishing communities up and down the northern California and Oregon coast that depend upon recreational and commercial salmon fishing for their economic livelihood. Commercial and recreational fishing for Chinooks was completely closed this year and last, with the exception of a 10 day recreational season off the North Coast this year. Salmon fishing on the Sacramento River and its tributaries has been completely closed this year, with the exception of a November 16 to December 31 season from Knights Landing to Red Bluff.

Steinberg’s constituents also oppose the peripheral canal because of its enormous cost at a time of severe economic crisis. A draft economic report written by Steven Kasower of the Strategic Economic Applications Company, released to the California Legislature on August 25, reveals that the costs for the construction of a peripheral canal around the California Delta or a tunnel under the estuary would range from $23 billion to $53.8 billion depending upon the conveyance facility.

“How can the Legislature and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger support a project that costs that much when California is slashing the budgets for healthcare for children, teachers and state parks?” asked Kim Glazzard, director of Organic Sacramento.

Not only is Steinberg acting against the needs of his constituents and Delta residents, but he is pushing a project that is opposed by the majority of Californians. A poll of 800 registered voters throughout California by EMC Research in Oakland, CA indicates all segments of voters are strongly opposed to a Peripheral Canal and nearly half oppose a bond for new dams, reservoirs or other water infrastructure projects.

For more information on the water bill package, go here.

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