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A peripheral canal: In Lodi and Galt, what's at stake?

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Posted: Tuesday, September 8, 2009 10:00 pm

Mark Twain is credited with saying, "Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over." Nowhere does that phrase seem more relevant than in California.

State Senate President Pro TemDarrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, is leading the movement to have comprehensive water reform for California in place by the end of the week.

Although it won't be voted on this week, one of the major topics of the heated debate is the peripheral canal, which would transport water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to southern parts of the state. Right now, water is taken from the Sacramento River and diverted south through the Delta to pumps that deliver water southward.

A common concern shared by opponents of the canal is that it would not provide more water to the state, merely divert it. Proponents say the canal could restore the Delta and provide long-term water stability to California.

Here in Lodi, the idea of a peripheral canal is unpopular. Delta advocates, fishing groups and farmers feel the canal would lower water quality and not solve any long-term issues. There is concern that it is a water grab from Southern California and that the smaller communities are not having their voices heard.

What are the peripheral canal proposals?

The peripheral canal, commonly referred to as a "conveyance" among lawmakers, has been discussed in California for decades. It would divert water from the Sacramento River through or around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. From there, it would empty into several aqueducts around the state.

In 1982, voters overwhelming rejected a ballot initiative that would have created a canal pump Delta water to Southern California. The proposed plans would move water around or under the Delta, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

One idea is to use all tunnels and run the water underneath the Delta. This plan would feature five intake facilities with fish screens and 36 miles of tunnel.

Another plan is to run the canal west of Sacramento with 38 miles of canal and 17 miles of tunnel. There is also a plan to run the canal eastward with 40 miles of canal and four tunnels. It would feature five intake facilities with fish screens as well.

There is a also plan on the table to build a canal right through the Delta. It would feature two tunnels, two intake facilities with fish screens, 12 miles of canal, 66 miles of levees and a new fish salvage facility.

The dual conveyance option, proposed by the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, would combine portions of the west, east or all tunnel alignments. It would also include some aspects of the Through-Delta option.

What does it mean for Lodi?

Wally Sandelin, Lodi's public works director, does not oppose the peripheral canal and doesn't see it harming Lodi. He said that while one proposed plan has the canal running close to the White Slough wastewater treatment plant, it wouldn't affect the facility's ability to expand sometime in the future.

What is the Delta and why should I care?

The Sacramento Delta earned its name because it's a small triangle inland from the San Francisco Bay Area. It's where water from the Pacific Ocean and water from some of the state's major rivers meet. It provides drinking water to more than 20 million Californians. The Delta also provides a significant portion of water for the state's agribusiness. It is in disrepair and susceptible to damage from earthquakes and rising sea levels.

Pumps for state and federal water projects are in southern Delta. The pumps are harmful to fish and their habitat. The pumps are powerful, and pull in fish and other organic matter south, causing the water to flow backwards in some places. The only way to change to flow of water is to reduce the level of pumping.

How would local farmers be affected?

If a peripheral canal were built, farmers in Lodi, Galt and Woodbridge would find themselves using water with a higher salt content then they are used to.

Joe Valente, chairman of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, said areas around I-5 and Eight Mile Road are already deteriorating due to higher levels of salinity in the water. According to Beuttler and Valente, one of the biggest problems with the proposed canal is that it merely diverts water and does not bring any more in. Valente also is concerned that the canal will cost farmers more per acre-foot than they are paying now and would create an unsustainable system. "We will need more agriculture if the population goes up," he said.

Would the canal hurt San Joaquin County's ability to recharge its groundwater?

San Joaquin County would have a more difficult time recharging its groundwater if a peripheral canal were built. Ed Stefani of the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District said all the water being diverted to the southern part of the state and the Bay Area would be unavailable for restocking groundwater supplies. He said there is an empty aquifer near Lodi that has the capacity to house two million acre-feet of water, and he wants to see a canal built to help recharge it.

How would local anglers be affected by a peripheral canal?

Fisherman by and large should be concerned about the peripheral canal.

John Beuttler, conservation director for the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, said he is troubled that nothing in the proposals he has seen assures that the state's fisheries will return to self-sustaining levels. He said a peripheral canal could be the end of fisheries as we know them in California, and that the state has to break its mentality of taking things without replenishing them.

"California thinks there is no end to water," he said. He said California must protect its wealth of natural resources, or else they would be lost forever.

Why two canals?

Matt Notley, spokesperson for Bay Delta Conservation Plan, said the most important thing California needs to address concerning its water is a system that separates water for supply, and the ecosystem. The BDCP wants to build a dual conveyance system.

"The BDCP will help create a habitat and improve water supply reliability,"

Notley said. He said the BDCP has a limited scope and is not the overall solution to the state's water crisis, but it would help ease the problems in the Delta between fish species and water supply.

How long would the canal take to build?

Since no project has been agreed upon yet, timelines vary. Earlier this month Mike Chrisman, California's Natural Resources Secretary, said construction could begin as early as 2011.

Stefani, who is against the canal because of the lack of information and detail, said since that the canal would take several years to build, the best thing that could be done would be to spend a year devoting the necessary time and resources to making sure the best plan is put forward.

"If we involved everyone we could make a solution that works," he said.

Stefani is against rushing anything through simply for the sake of getting it done, and said he believes a more sustainable solution can be achieved through more surface reservoirs and groundwater recharging.

How much would it cost?

No specific dollar figure has been determined as of yet. Early projections have the project costing a minimum of $10 billion. Other estimates have the project costing more than $50 billion.

Who would pay for it?

While no specific plan has been detailed as of yet, preliminary estimates show some mixture of usage fees for contractors and bond measures being used to pay for the plan.

Chris Vosburg. of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said the group has not developed an official position on the peripheral canal. However, Vosburg said the group is hesitant about supporting bond measures in general since "they aren't used for what is advertised."

Who is in favor/against?

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sen. Dianne Feinstein are two of the biggest supporters of the canal. Gerald Meral, former western water director of the Environmental Defense Fund and former Deputy Director of the California Department of Water Resources, wrote an opinion piece in the San Jose Mercury News in August supporting the canal.

Restore the Delta and other Delta advocates and farm owners, as well as sport and commercial fisherman oppose the plan for the "Big ditch." Protesters have been meeting outside Steinberg's Sacramento office and plan to do so today as well.

On Tuesday, farmers, landowners and Delta advocates were some of the people who protested outside his office.

Contact Jordan Guinn at jordang@lodinews.com.

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Welcome to the discussion.


  • posted at 11:29 am on Wed, Sep 9, 2009.


    June 74---- You have had to much Kool-Aid, switch to decafe.

  • posted at 10:53 am on Wed, Sep 9, 2009.


    Divided the States North & South California so it can't stand. How about pipeline from Alaska??? Ice just melting into the Pacific Ocean!!!

  • posted at 10:46 am on Wed, Sep 9, 2009.


    Since the Peripheral Canal is all about sending NorCal water south, I have said this many times before, instead of a canal, SoCal could and should build a desalination plant to serve the people of the LA area. San Louis Obispo and Oceanside California already have their own plants in operation. The cost of a desalination plant would cost in the billions, never the less the supply of fresh water would constant, leaving NoCal water and the Delta alone. This subject has never come up or discussed by the political hacks in Sacto., perhaps it`s time.

  • posted at 8:53 am on Wed, Sep 9, 2009.


    Whoa: I think we should SELL every single drop of our precious Northern California fresh water resource to the export pumps at Tracy (which collectively serves the Valley farmers and SoCal, as I understand it) rather than just let it run out to sea...BUT ONLY AFTER: a) All of the Delta and Bay Estuary's ecological needs are met (this verified by continuous impartial scientific monitoring); and: b) ALL of our own Northern California agricultural, municipal, and industrial needs are fully met. THEN AND ONLY THEN- Any and all surplus water that remains after (a)+(b) are fully satisfied, I think its only right and logical to allow export of it to those who need it, rather than waste it to the sea. Fresh water is way too precious to allow that to happen.

  • posted at 7:46 am on Wed, Sep 9, 2009.


    JR- I agree with you 99% of what you said. All except that last part about take the water out after it flows thru the Delta. Are you suggesting it is OK to send it to LA? I am 110% opposed to that idea. Our valley farmers need that water to grow food! Water is a valuable commodity- supply & demand- low water supply means a higher price per acre foot. Translation- higher food prices.

  • posted at 5:21 am on Wed, Sep 9, 2009.


    What this article is not PERFECTLY CLEAR about is the following: The new Peripheral Canal -planned to be 1000' wide- would divert a huge portion of the incoming Sacramento River above Walnut Grove (ie, north of the actual Delta) and send it directly down to the export pumps down near Tracy. That sweet upstream fresh water would CEASE to flow thru the Delta. Currently, those Tracy export pumps take the water AFTER it has flowed thru the Delta. This enormous loss of fresh water would invite saltwater intrusion into the Delta and would severely impact the "flushing" that this fresh water flow now provides. THIS IS NOTHING SHORT OF AN UPSTREAM WATER GRAB. There is NO WAY it will be "good" for the Delta- that's just common sense. If the fish are the problem down at the pumps, I say improve the intake system down there to rectify that...but take the water ONLY AFTER it flows COMPLETELY THRU the Delta as it ALWAYS HAS for mankind's recorded history.



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