Panel pushing for controversial canal project

January 3, 2009 3:05:15 PM PST
A panel of the governor's top advisers is recommending California move swiftly on a massive construction project to pipe water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

In a report issued Friday, the Delta Vision Committee said California should begin building a canal to divert water from the Sacramento River as soon as 2011. It is one of the most controversial strategies included in a final report released by the governor's office after more than two years of hearings.

The report mirrors an earlier draft released by the governor's cabinet-level panel last month.

Advocates have said a canal would reroute water used by two-thirds of Californians away from the fragile delta, which is susceptible to earthquakes, levee breaks and flooding.

But a canal has long been opposed by Northern Californians wary of a water grab by the south. Environmentalists also fear water diversions could harm the delta's native fish.

Voters in 1982 overwhelmingly rejected a similar concept and some Democrats in the Legislature also oppose it.

Natural Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman, chair of the delta panel, said the committee believes a new canal could be built without the Legislature's approval.

"We think it's a reasonable goal to set," Chrisman told reporters on a conference call.

The report also promotes building dams, restoring 100,000 acres of habitat in the delta, and creating another panel to explore how the delta should be governed.