Governor Jerry Brown has yet again proposed the idea of a peripheral canal in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a project he has been trying to push through since his first term as governor in the late 70’s. Environmentalists are split on whether or not it would do further damage to the delta, taxpayers are not looking forward to the $25 billion dollar bill and it is striking up an old feud.
With massive populations gathered in the desert of southern California and two-thirds of the annual rainfall in the north, water policy has always been a point of contention between the two geographical regions. The insatiable thirst of the south seems to leave northern California footing the bill of a depreciated delta.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is a critical diversion point for pumping water to southern California. The proposed canal is a 35-mile dual conveyance system that would make is easier to bypass the delta and pump higher quality water using less energy. Unfortunately that is where the good news stops because demand for water isn’t shrinking.
The pumps are supposed to mimic seasonal flow by storing water in reservoirs and releasing the water seasonally, which can mean pumping them dry. Computer models show that by 2060 Folsom Lake, about 30 miles north of Sacramento would be completely empty at least once a decade.
The escalated pumping would cause further reverse flow ruining prime agricultural land. Reverse flow occurs when there is a decrease of fresh water being released in to the delta, allowing salt water to creep in from the ocean and increasing the salinity levels in the delta and in the soil.
An improvement is the screens that would be placed on pumps to prevent fish and eggs from being sucked in. However, the state has continually failed to complete a study on the minimum stream flow required to keep endangered fish and other species alive. Additionally, the increased salinity levels from reverse flow will continue to allow invasive species to outcompete natives.
The California water system is already complicated a web of federal, state, joint fed-state and local water projects. Governor Brown’s father Pat Brown built the largest state water project in 1959 when he was in office, and it seems Brown is also determined to leave a legacy water project as well.
The idea for a peripheral canal has been around since the 1940’s and has resurfaced many times over the years. In 1982 Brown left the decision on the canal up to the people with Proposition 9 in his second term as governor. It was shot down and the vote was overwhelmingly split between north and south. So when Brown reintroduced the idea, it is understandable why he didn’t want it going to popular vote.
Lawsuits have already being filed against the project and its part in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and only time will tell if the Peripheral Canal will be laid to rest again.
Regardless of the fate of the canal, the state keeps attempting to build its way out of a water crisis. Water conservation will have to be made a critical component of California water policy if any progress is to be made.