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Battle Lines Are Drawn Over Peripheral Canal
by Dan Bacher
Tuesday Aug 25th, 2009 7:44 AM
The battle lines are clearly being drawn between corporate environmentalists who are collaborating with the Governor and Legislature to destroy the California Delta by building a peripheral canal and the true defenders of fish and the environment - grassroots environmentalists, commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, California Indian Tribes and Delta farmers.
Battle Lines Are Drawn Over Peripheral Canal

by Dan Bacher

The battle lines are clearly being drawn between corporate environmentalists who are collaborating with the Governor and Legislature to destroy the California Delta by building a peripheral canal and the true defenders of fish and the environment - grassroots environmentalists, commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, California Indian Tribes and Delta farmers.

Gerald Meral, the former Deputy Director of the California Department of Water Resources and the former western water director of the Environmental Defense Fund, wrote an opinion piece in the San Jose Mercury News Tuesday backing the peripheral canal as the "solution" to the Delta's environmental problems and the South Bay's water needs, http://www.mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_13195188. Meral has been a long-time advocate of the peripheral canal and has played a key role in convincing some environmental NGOs to support the canal's construction.

Meral's article is a collection of lies regarding the Delta and the proposed canal starting with this false and misleading statement: "Farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta are trying to convince other Northern Californians that the Peripheral Canal would be bad. But the narrow interests of the farmers do not coincide with the interests of people who live in the South Bay."

In reality, it is not just Delta farmers that are opposing the canal but a broad coalition including farmers, recreational fishermen, commercial fishermen, California Indian Tribes and environmentalists that are opposing the "Big Ditch" supported by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senator Joe Simitian. These groups hardly represent "narrow interests." They are committed to stopping the collapse of Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and southern resident killer whales caused by massive exports out of the largest estuary of the West Coast of the Americas.

With no evidence whatsoever to back his contentions, Meral then says the canal would "solve" an array of problems, including stopping water pollution, maintaining water supplies to South Bay cities and Central Valley agribusiness, addressing the risk of levee failure and stopping the massacre of salmon, smelt and other fish in the Delta pumps.

"Millions of young fish are sucked up and killed by the pumps," said Meral. "The Peripheral Canal would end this problem by restoring the natural flow direction in the delta channels."

What Meral fails to mention is that federal pumps in the South Delta would continue pumping water to corporate agribusiness while the canal intake on the Sacramento River would further endanger salmon and other migratory fish populations by sucking up millions of fish from the Sacramento system. Since the state and federal agencies have failed to install state of the art fish screens to protect salmon, Delta smelt and other fish on the existing state and federal pumps in the South Delta, are we to expect these same agencies to suddenly have a Damascus conversion and install effective fish screens on the canal intakes?

Meral then praises the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, a corporate greenwashing process designed by Governor Schwarzenegger to build a peripheral canal at the expense of Delta farms and collapsing Delta fisheries. "To address this concern, a coalition of fish and wildlife agencies, conservation groups and water districts are developing a Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which would require sufficient water flows through the delta to restore endangered fish populations," claimed Meral.

While corporate environmentalists are working with the Governor, Legislature and federal government through the BDCP process to supply massive water exports to Westlands Water District and San Joaquin Valley corporate agribusiness at the expense of California fisheries, Delta farmers and the environment, the people of the Delta have been excluded from planning and decisions over the fate of the Delta in both the BDCP and Legislative process.

Meral finishes his piece by saying that "Senator Joe Simitian of Santa Clara County is taking a leadership position on this important issue and deserves the thanks of his constituents for his hard and effective work on water issues."

Actually, Simitian must be roundly condemned by all advocates of environmental justice for his role in giving Democratic cover to plans by the worst Governor for fish and the environment in California history, Arnold Schwarznegger, to destroy the Delta and build the peripheral canal!

I have two questions to ask Meral, Simitian and other peripheral canal advocates that have yet to be answered.

1. Can you give me one example, in U.S. or world history, where the construction of a diversion canal has resulted in less, rather than more, water being taken out of a river system?

2. Can you give me one example, In U.S. or world history, where the construction of a diversion canal has resulted in ecosystem restoration rather than ecosystem destruction?

On the same day, in contrast with the greenwashing of the canal by Meral, Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA), released his statement criticizing a dangerous package of five water bills being heard in the Legislature this week. In his letter to Assemblyman Jared Huffman and Senator Fran Pavley, he blasted the legislation for weakening public trust law and the state water code while serving as the road map to the peripheral canal.

Jennings called for the joint committee to slow the fast-track process down. "CSPA appreciates the efforts to address California’s long-existing water crisis and looks forward to working with you and your colleagues in developing an improved legislative package," said Jennings. "However, we believe the remaining days before adjournment provide insufficient time achieve a comprehensive and effective solution."

Jennings cited a long list of reasons, led by his questioning of the legislature's handling of the Public Trust issue, to delay the bills until the spring session of the legislature. The concept of Public Trust extends throughout history all the way to Roman Law and has been continuously strengthened including sections of the Magna Carta. The doctrine is based on the principle that certain resources are preserved for public use and that the government is required to maintain it for the public's reasonable use, according to Jerry Neuburger, CSPA webmaster.

In California, all surface water falls within the doctrine of the Public Trust as do the fisheries, including the once robust runs of the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems. In other words, the waters and fisheries of the state are owned by the citizens of the state and held in trust for them by the state government.

"The bills represent the first time the legislative has expressed its intent of the Public Trust," stated Jennings. "The Public Trust represents the people’s common property right in rivers and estuaries and establishes the baseline or minimal standards that must be met before water is available for private use. The bills diminish that protection by establishing water supply reliability as coequal with protection of the public trust."

Other areas of contention included sections on governance, a lack of definition of terms, a lack of set standards, the surrender of the responsibilities of delta governance to a select commission with four members appointed by the governor and the likelihood of the commission's aggressive pursuit of a peripheral canal.

While Meral is busy supporting the Governor and Legislators in their campaign to hammer the final nails into the coffin of Bay-Delta Estuary fisheries, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Restore the Delta and a broad coalition of fishing, environmental, farming and tribal groups are standing up to defend the fish and the Delta.

If you want to help save the Delta and stop the peripheral canal, sign a petition and send a letter to your Legislators by going to http://www.calsport.org.

For Jennings' complete statement, go to: http://www.calsport.org/CSPAComments-SB1-AB1.pdf.
LATEST COMMENTS ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
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Peripheral Canal advocates are the real fundamentalists!Dan BacherWednesday Aug 26th, 2009 2:16 PM
Mr. Bacher has it all wrongZachary ByronWednesday Aug 26th, 2009 9:26 AM

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