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Delta Groups Rally Against The Panama Canal North
by Dan Bacher
Thursday Jul 9th, 2009 11:55 AM
“The exporting of more water out of the Delta not only dooms agriculture in the Delta, but also dooms one of the largest estuaries on the North American West Coast,” stated Rudy Mussi, Central Delta farmer and Member of the Central Delta Water Agency.

Photo: Family farmers from North Delta CARES hold up a banner opposing the construction of "The Panama Canal North." Photo by Dan Bacher.
Delta Groups Rally Against The Panama Canal North

by Dan Bacher

Legislators and hundreds of Delta advocates held a rally at the State Capitol in Sacramento on Tuesday to oppose the peripheral canal, a budget-busting and environmentally destructive project that would approximate the Panama Canal in width and length.

"I'm not going to vote for a plan that builds a Panama Canal down the middle of the 15th Assembly District,” exclaimed Assemblymember Joan Buchanan to loud applause from a crowd of recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, Delta farmers, farmworkers, Indian Tribal members, environmentalists and community activists. “I will do all I can to make that the Delta is protected.”

As she spoke, Delta family farmers from North Delta CARES and others held up banners proclaiming “The Peripheral Canal=Panama Canal North,” along with signs saying, “Fewer Water Exports, Not Fewer Delta Fish” and “Give the Delta a Voice!”

Buchanan said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Delta Vision Process calls for "improved conveyance" that will transport 15,000 cubic feet of water per second (cfs) from the Sacramento River around the Delta. This is smaller than the proposed 1982 peripheral canal, defeated overwhelmingly by the voters, that was intended to transport 22,000 cfs.

A conveyance to transport 15,000 cfs. would be between 500 and 700 feet wide, requiring a 1300 foot right-of-way, based on an engineering report completed in August 2006 by Washington Group International for the State Water Contractors, “Isolated Facility, Incised Bay-Delta System – Estimate of Construction Costs.”

“That's the width of a 100 lane freeway,” said Buchanan. “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 rally was held not only to oppose the “Panama Canal North,” but to demand that Delta residents have a voice in ongoing water policy negotiations in the Legislature.

“The message today is quite simple,” said State Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis), who opened the rally. “You can’t fix the Delta without the people of the Delta as your partners.”

Wolk stated that changes to the Delta proposed by the Legislature and the Governor’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan and Delta Vision processes could mean increased exposure to pollutants in the waters, increased costs for water and water treatment, reduced farm production, greater loss of commercial fishing and a higher risk of flooding.

The rally took place on the day that a hearing regarding a package of water bills was originally scheduled. However, the hearing, which hundreds were expecting to attend, was cancelled and has not been rescheduled.

The coalition of canal opponents fears that the final package, developed through secret negotiations with no input from Delta residents, would fund the budget-busting canal at a time when California has a $24.3 billion deficit.

Peripheral Canal: A Bad Idea In 1982 and Even Worse Now

“The peripheral canal was a bad idea in 1982 and it’s an even worse idea today,” said Steve Evans, Conservation Director, Friends of the River. “Several court rulings have proven that the government can’t be trusted to operate a Peripheral Canal in a way that benefits the Delta. Instead it will be used to suck most of the fresh water from the Sacramento River for export to southern Central Valley agribusiness and southern California developers.”

Fisheries advocates said the canal must stopped because it will only exacerbate the collapse of Central Valley Chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, juvenile striped bass, threadfin shad, Sacramento splittail and other Delta fish populations.

Bill Jennings, Chairman/Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, described the canal and dams proposal as “a legislative dash to the worst environmental disaster in American history” – and noted that the Delta is dying because existing environmental laws are being ignored.

“Discarding prudent legislative deliberation and oversight is likely to lead to wasting tens of billions of dollars constructing a massive white elephant that will destroy Delta fisheries and water quality,” said Jennings. “It will gravely damage the Delta economy, deliver less water than presently exported and cause increased litigation because of legal flaws and bad science.”

“The water exporters look at the Delta as a reservoir, but it is actually a living ecosystem,” said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA). “The life blood of California’s commercial salmon fishery is being drained out of the Delta as the freshwater is exported to San Joaquin Valley agribusiness.”

Farmers from throughout the Delta came in force to the rally. Farmers oppose the canal because increasing salinity caused by the canal would both destroy agriculture on one of the world's most fertile estuaries and devastate fish populations in order to export water to subsidized water to drainage impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

“The exporting of more water out of the Delta not only dooms agriculture in the Delta, but also dooms one of the largest estuaries on the North American West Coast,” stated Rudy Mussi, Central Delta farmer and Member of the Central Delta Water Agency.

Winnemem Wintu Tribe Fights for the Delta

Mark Franco, headman of the Winnemem Wintu (McCloud River) Tribe, held up a sign proclaiming, “Tribes Support Saving the Delta.” The Winnemem Wintu has been forefront in the battle to save the Delta and stop the peripheral canal. They are strongly opposing a federal plan to raise Shasta Dam that is a linchpin in the plan to export more water out of the Delta through the canal.

“The peripheral canal is a big, stupid idea that doesn’t make any sense from a tribal environmental perspective,” said Franco. “Building a canal to save the Delta is like a doctor inserting an arterial bypass from your shoulder to your hand– it will cause your elbow to die just like taking water out of the Delta through a peripheral canal will cause the Delta to die.”

Robert Johnson, Delta fly fishing enthusiast and founder of Californians Against the Canal, pointed out the absurdity of the state funding the enormously expensive canal and more dams at a time when the state is laying off teachers and nurses and mandating three unpaid furlough days a month for state employees. He urged the state to find sustainable alternatives to meet California's water needs.

“The Peripheral Canal and Sites and Temperance Flat Dams will cost over $40 billion, including interest, and not provide a DROP of additional water,” said Johnson. “How can state legislators allow this secretive, hugely expensive bond measure to be jammed through without rigorous debate exploring the alternative Alternatives that will provide over 10 million acre feet of water for the state – more water than has ever been exported from NorCal?“

Likewise, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, campaign director of Restore the Delta, said, “We want real solutions – programs and projects that will capture, recycle, and treat water – programs that are cost effective and environmentally sound – programs that will stop the insanity of moving water from north to south through or around the Delta.

Freddie Morales, a young farmworker from Alpaugh in the San Joaquin Valley, illustrated the irony of corporate agribusiness campaigning to export more water from the Delta when they continually deny clean drinking water to farmworkers in rural communities.

“We need clean drinking water and the water is bad in my community,” he said. “People get sick from it.”

Elected officials who spoke at the rally included Lt. Governor John Garamendi, State Senator Mark DeSaulnier, Assemblymembers Alyson Huber and Mariko Yamada, and Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors representative Mary Piepho, speaking for the assembled County Supervisors from the five Delta counties.

Other speakers included Charlotte Hodde, Water Program Manager of the Planning and Conservation League, Debbie Davis, Legislative Analyst for the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water and Jim Metropulos, Senior Advocate for Sierra Club California.

The Delta’s Voice Must Be Heard!

Canal opponents emphasized that while the Legislature is on the verge of considering a massive and costly restructuring of California’s water laws and water infrastructure, there have been no public hearings even as the Legislative policy committees are set to complete their work.

“A series of secret bills, not yet in official language, are set to be merged and will cover several contentious water issues including governance of the Bay-Delta region, water conservation, new dams and an updated version of the multi-billion dollar Peripheral Canal, which was overwhelming rejected by California voters in 1982,” according to a statement from Restore the Delta.

Expressing concern that the public and most legislators have not seen the legislative language and the bills are only scheduled for a cursory policy committee hearing instead of allowing for public input, the group called for public hearings where the voices of Delta residents, farmers and fishermen are heard and acted upon in a spirit of openness and transparency.

“Delta communities need to have a major voice in the process,” concluded Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla. “Without public hearings, the more than 500,000 Californians who live and work in the Delta are being denied the opportunity to hold a major voice in the process.”

For more information about what you can do to stop the peripheral canal, go to, and

§Assemblymember Lois Wolk
by Dan Bacher Thursday Jul 9th, 2009 11:56 AM
§Assemblymember Mariko Yamada
by Dan Bacher Thursday Jul 9th, 2009 11:56 AM
§Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi
by Dan Bacher Thursday Jul 9th, 2009 11:56 AM
§Bill Jennings, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance
by Dan Bacher Thursday Jul 9th, 2009 11:56 AM
§Zeke Grader, PCFFA
by Dan Bacher Thursday Jul 9th, 2009 11:56 AM
§Robert Johnson, Californians Against the Canal
by Dan Bacher Thursday Jul 9th, 2009 11:56 AM
§Charlotte Hodde, Planning & Conservation League
by Dan Bacher Thursday Jul 9th, 2009 11:56 AM
§Mark Franko, headman of Winnemem Wintu Tribe
by Dan Bacher Thursday Jul 9th, 2009 11:56 AM
§Members of North Delta Cares at the Rally
by Dan Bacher Thursday Jul 9th, 2009 11:56 AM
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Delta Groups Rally Against The Panama Canal NorthDan Bacher Friday Jul 10th, 2009 10:56 AM