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Peripheral Canal: Panama Canal North?
by Dan Bacher
Wednesday Jul 1st, 2009 8:20 AM
The peripheral canal proposed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and corporate agribusiness will appoximate the size of the Panama Canal, according to Assemblymember Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo).

Photo of Panama Canal from 2009/04/panama-canal.html
Peripheral Canal: Panama Canal North?

Proposed government boondoggle would be 500 to 700 feet wide, with 1,300 foot right-of-way

by Dan Bacher

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator Dianne Feinstein, corporate agribusiness and other supporters of the peripheral canal around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta have carefully avoided discussing what an actual canal would look like, as well as its enormous environmental impacts and budget-busting cost to the taxpayers.

However, in the size and scope of the project, it would be very similar to the Panama Canal, according to recent comments by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan on the floor on the floor when she and other legislators were asked to vote on a bill to fund a committee to develop a plan to implement the Delta Vision recommendations.

The recommendations call for a "conveyance" that will transport 15,000 cubic feet of water per second (cfs) from the Sacramento River around the Delta, according to Buchanan. This is smaller than the proposed 1982 peripheral canal that was intended to transport 22,000 cfs.

During drought years, the Sacramento River does not have 15,000 cfs. flow for over half the year. In 2007, the flow exceeded 15,000 cfs. in three months with the highest month at 22,500 cfs.

"Based on an engineering report completed in 2006, a conveyance to transport 15,000 cfs. would be between 500 and 700 feet wide requiring a 1300 foot right-of-way," said Buchanan. "That's the width of a 100 lane freeway! The length of the conveyance would be 48 miles. By comparison the Panama Canal is between 500 and 1000 feet wide and is 50 miles long."

"I'm not going to vote for a plan that builds a Panama Canal down the middle of the 15th Assembly District!" concluded Buchanan.

The Governor's Delta Vision Task Force and Bay Delta Conservation Plan both recommend the construction of a "peripheral canal" and more reservoirs designed to export more water from senior water rights holders in the Delta and Sacramento Valley to junior water rights holders that irrigate drainage-impaired, selenium-filled land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. Although the Delta Vision Task Force's report recommended that less water be exported out of the Delta to help the estuary's collapsing ecosystem, canal opponents note that the construction of a canal with increased water export capacity would inevitably be used to export more water out of the system.

I have repeatedly asked canal advocates to give me one example, in U.S. or world history, where the construction of a big diversion canal has resulted in less water being taken out of a river system. I have also asked them to give me one example, in U.S. or world history, where the construction of a big diversion canal has resulted in a restored or improved ecosystem. None of the canal backers have been able to answer either one of these two questions.

The push to build a peripheral canal occurs as Central Valley and Delta fish populations are in their greatest-ever crisis. Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish populations have declined to record low population levels in recent years, due to increased water exports and declining water quality. A broad coalition of Delta family farmers, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, grassroots environmentalists and California Indian Tribes are opposing the peripheral canal because it is expected to push imperiled fish species over the abyss of extinction.

Schwarzenegger has cynically tried to link a deal to remove four aging dams on the Klamath River, owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Corporation, to a water bond including a peripheral canal and more dams. However, the Klamath Riverkeeper and other Klamath Basin stakeholders oppose tying the dam removal project to the construction of new dams in the Central Valley and a peripheral canal as a proposed general obligation water bond would do.

"California must support Klamath dam removal on its own merits," said Georgiana Myers, Klamath Riverkeeper Community Organizer and Yurok Tribal Member. “The Klamath dam removal deal has received support from Oregon with Senate Bill 76, and now we need Governor Schwarzenegger to step up."

Meanwhile, California Legislators will join hundreds of members of environmental organizations, sportfishing groups, farmers and community activists as they hold a rally at the North Steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento on Tuesday, July 7, 2009 at 11 a.m. to voice concerns around a package of yet-unreleased water bills. A hearing on the water bills originally scheduled for July 7 has been cancelled and no new date has been set.

Delta advocates fear that this bill package will include the enormously costly and environmentally destructive peripheral canal and more dams to export more water to corporate agribusiness on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. Rally participants will express the Delta’s need for a voice in these negotiations and the responsibility of the State Legislature to allow for a full and public debate on these important issues.

A proposition to build the peripheral canal was overwhelmingly rejected by California voters in 1982. However, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator Dianne Feinstein and their allies in the legislature, under pressure from San Joaquin Valley land barons, have been relentlessly campaigning for a new version of the canal - euphemistically called "improved conveyance" - since June 2007.

A water bond would cost the taxpayers anywhere from $10-40 billion today and much more over the thirty years to pay it back, according to Steve Evans of Friends of the River. This is at a time when the Governor has proclaimed a “fiscal emergency” because of the $24.3 billion deficit. Schwarzenegger on July 1 issued an executive order to impose three furloughs per month and called the Legislature into a Special Session - and yet he continues to push this insane government boondoggle and pork barrel project!

Senator Lois Wolk and other members of the California State Legislature will speak at the rally. Other speakers include Rudy Mussi, a Central Delta farmer, Bill Jennings, Chairman of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Zeke Grader, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Robert Johnson, Contra Costa Delta Fisherman’s Group, Charlotte Hodde, Planning and Conservation League, Debbie Davis, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, Steve Evans, Friends of the River, and Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, campaign director of Restore the Delta. Spanish speakers will be present.

For updates on this rally and the battle to restore California Delta and Central Valley fish populations, go to http://www.calsport.or or

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Tom Hawes
Wednesday Jul 1st, 2009 12:24 PM
Wow. Did I get this right? You base all of your assumptions on somthing that was said on the floor of the assembly? You might need to check your sources. The fact remains that the Delta is broken and can no longer support the way it has been operated in the past. We need compromise now. This is just like the budget situation we are in right now. So what do we do? We build off-stream habitat for the wildlife of the Delta. We become more efficent with the water we do use, including farmers, and we send all future development to the bay area because we dont want to fix the middle of the water conveyance system that has allowed California to build homes where there is room since the '60s. We kill off all of the non-native fish that are eating the Delta Smelt and Salmon, that's the Bass that the Sport Fishing Alliance is trying to keep, and leave any Farm flooded if a levee breaks. That should be a good start.
by Derph
Wednesday Jul 1st, 2009 1:19 PM
I am so tired of MISINFORMATION - I don't know where some of the information came from but it's so skewed it's almost comical - but what can you expect from someone who can't even get a budget passed. Misinformation! The canal will NOT be as wide as a 100 lane freeway, the easement is 1000 yards to allow for the movement of vehicles, equipement and construction goods so there will be no harm to anyone outside of that easement, there is also the slope of the embankments to consider. Misinformation! The canal is designed for 15,000 CFS MAXIMUM but that is to harvest water in flood events to help take some of the pressure off the more fragile levees in the delta to help preserve them, the same allocations will prevail so no additional water can be shipped, you can't move what you don't have and there are State Water Resources Control Board decisions that limit the amount of water that can be moved! More Misinformation. The "Senior Water Rights Holders" in the delta have Riparian rights which allows them water that is in the river only, it used to be a variable salinity estuary but the farmers sued the feds and state so they could get fresh water all year every year and not have to pay a cent, they got that because of the fresh water being provided by the dams and canals that were built to provide water to the San Joaquin Valley Farmers. Lack of Infomation on your part. The canal will work to accomplish 3 major objectives that were left out - 1) It would take the fish out of the equation on pumping, 2) it would provide a reliable source of water for those people holding water rights to the Sacramento and Feather rivers, 3) it would stop the reverse flows in the Old and Middle rivers so the San Joaquin river would flow in a more natural direction. So my suggestion is to do some critical thinking and investigation of your own and not rely on the dogma that has been spewed for so many years.
by Daniel Bacher
Wednesday Jul 1st, 2009 2:50 PM
Rather than respond to the disinformation provided to you both by corporate agribusiness and DWR, I will cut to the heart of the issue and ask you the two big questions that canal advocates refuse to answer.

First, can you give me one example, in U.S. or world history, where the construction of a big diversion canal has resulted in less water being taken out of a river system?

Second, can you give me one example, in U.S. or world history, where the construction of a big diversion canal has resulted in a restored or improved ecosystem?
by all increased by peripheral canal
Wednesday Jul 1st, 2009 2:58 PM
Here in CA we are lucky enough to have learned some lessons from the mistakes made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in designing the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MR-GO) canal for oil tanker transport. The peripheral canal idea in CA is an example of hydro-engineers not learning from nor paying attention to the mistakes and hard lessons learned by others..

We cannot forget about the reasons the levees in New Orleans were under so much additional pressure from storm surge, the presence of MR-GO canal for transport of oil tankers allowed for salt water intrusion and enabled the storm surge to rush inland into the New Orleans region where the levees were then overwhelmed..

"MRGO/Katrina trial against Corps Continues with Great New Orleans Community Interest

Posted on April 22, 2009 by Erich Rapp

The civil case against the US Army Corps of Engineers being presented in United States District Court in New Orleans continues. The six plaintiffs are presenting their case against the Corps of Engineers to District Judge Stanwood Duval. The stakes to the community are very high. The Corps of Engineers believe the potential damages may be as much as $100 billion.

The basis for the community's complaint against the Corps of Engineers is the Corps design, construction and maintenance of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet ("MRGO") which is blamed for funneling hurricane storm surge toward St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Because of the damage that MRGO has caused to the coastal wetlands south of New Orleans, the Corps has closed the waterway to navigation."

article found @;

There could be similar problems with peripheral canals of ANY dimensions, granted that it will need to be at least 1000 feet in width is already an avenue for intruding salt water during CA's infamous "pineapple express" storm surges and the predicted rise in sea level will no doubt further erode the delta wetlands with higher reaches of saline water..

The delta region of the valley is similar in topography to New Orleans and southern Louisiana and we could expect similar results, simply substitute a few strong winter storms for hurricanes..

Since there is disagreement on the actual width of the planned peripheral canal, my objection is to the entire concept of funneling water around the delta and would urge planners to try methods more compatible with natural ecosystems (like setback levees to allow rivers room to meander and provide additional floodplain surface area to enhance floodwater percolation into riparian aquifers.) The width needed to transport large volumes of water to San Joaquin would also be wide enough to enable salt water intrusion, if it is too narrow then it would only deliver smaller amounts of water, so either way the increasing salinity will have an inland route..

The agribusiness corporations of the San Joaquin have already damaged their habitat enough over the past few decades, and need to cease and desist the growing of crops that are overly demanding of water during the dry hot summers that characterize this region. From selenium buildup in the soil to land subsidence of over twenty feet, the recent history of agribusiness in the San Joaquin shows how careless land management can damage the ecosystem in only decades, while the indigenous peoples who lived in the San Joaquin prior to European settlement have lived for centuries there without causing this level of damage..

some background on San Joaquin aquifer;

"Before development began, the aquifer system was under steady-state conditions in which natural recharge balanced natural discharge. Ground water in the shallow part of the aquifer system flowed from areas of high altitude at the valley margins, where most of the recharge took place, down gradient to discharge into rivers and marshes near the valley axis. This pattern changed after the area became heavily settled. Due to heavy pumping, water in the confined parts of the aquifer move toward the areas where water is being withdrawn.

The large amounts of groundwater pumped have caused subsidence. Most of the subsidence has been caused by three processes; oxidation and compaction of peat, hydrocompaction, and compaction of fine-grained sediments due to withdrawal of ground water in excess of recharge. Of these three, the last process has caused the most widespread and severe subsidence.

When an aquifer has been severely overdrafted, it will never again be able to hold its pre-overdraft amount. There is some storage loss that is not permanent. The storage capacity in coarse-grained materials can be regained. Subsidence due to compaction of fine-grained sediments began in the San Joaquin Valley in the 1920's. Approximately one-half of the valley, or about 5200 square miles, had subsided at least 1 foot by 1977. In 1977, a drought year, withdrawals reached a maximum of 15 million acre-feet."

info & maps on subsidence, selenium, boron & nitrate contamination;

In reality the San Joaquin agribusiness corporations are like miners of water, and like many mineral mining corporations, once they have extracted all the resources they can from the Earth, they usually leave the place a toxic Superfund site for others to clean up..

There is a good chance that the San Joaquin agribusinesses are attempting to squeeze every last drop out of the rivers and stress the land to the maximum before they finally pull out, though the expense for the short term relief provided by the peripheral canal transport system will be overshadowed by the long term burdens on taxpayers stuck with maintaining the canal and all the devastation the the ecosystem it will cause if allowed to be built..

corporations and their politician puppets are notorious for ignoring warning from true scientists and environmental activists until it is too late, leaving us with the dirty task of clean up amid bitter mutterings of "told you so." Let's stop the insanity of repeating these mistakes over and over again and just say NO to the peripheral canal and continued exports to San Joaquin agribusiness. Time to grow drought tolerant crops like tepary beans, jojoba, nopales, etc..., and also put some of the remaining land into fallowed resting for grassland and sage range habitat for indigenous pronghorns and tule elk. There could be regulated hunting for those interested in obtaining their protein from wild game in their native habitats. After several decades of being allowed to meander and flood behind setback levees, the rivers should begin restoring parts of the aquifer, at least providing some drinking water..

PS Thanks Dan for continued coverage, if you have some extra time, i would be very interested to find a weblink that accurately states all the dimensions from canal width to levee height and other structural details on the peripheral canal to be certain when debating with the "pro-canal" public relations folks..
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