Environmental group supports Delta Canal

January 7, 2009 6:41:14 PM PST
The idea of building a peripheral canal around the Delta is gaining support. For the first time, a major environmental group is publicly backing the controversial plan.

Anthony Saracino is California Water Program Director for the Nature Conservancy. It is the first major environmental group to support behind the building of a peripheral canal.

The channel would divert water from the Sacramento River around the Delta -- an idea rejected by voters in 1982.

"The Delta has evolved naturally to be a fluctuating estuary which has fluctuating salinity levels. So the canal would divert some of the water around the Delta, while allowing the Delta itself to be much more natural in terms of its fluctuating condition," said Saracino.

The Conservancy's support for the canal comes with conditions that there are rules in place to protect the environment, and that a new independent governing agency is formed first.

That conflicts with Governor Schwarzenegger's Delta Vision Committee, which opted to study the governance issue for another year, while planning to begin construction on a canal in 2011.

But critics of any plan to divert water from the Delta say it would destroy an already fragile ecosystem.

John Herrick is the manager of the South Delta Water Agency.

"It will, without a doubt, put local agricultural business out of business," said Herrick.

"The State of California has regulated water like the Feds have regulated Wall Street. A peripheral canal is not going to solve California's water problems," said Bill Jennings from the California Sport fishing Alliance. "The amount of water flowing into the Delta is only 289 million acre feet of water. The State Water Board has granted water rights to take that water, to the tune of 245 million acre feet of water."

The Conservancy's Saracino and his wife both have past connections to the California Department of Water Resources, but he says that has no influence on the environmental group's Delta policy.