Assemblyman Bill Berryhill grew up farming winegrapes, almonds and apples in California.
Twelve years ago he purchased land in Clements, and grows grapes and walnuts there. He is an avid duck and pheasant hunter in the Delta and wants to find a way to preserve the Delta, while avoiding the construction of a peripheral canal.
He is championing an idea presented by Russ Brown that would make the San Joaquin River flow into Old River with a flood-gate downstream from the head of Old River.
Q: Why do you oppose a peripheral canal?
A: It doesn't develop a drop of water and it has potential to damage Delta wetlands. There is a large risk of saltwater intrusion. It's basically a big, dirt ditch the size of the Panama Canal. It was a bad idea 30 years ago, and it is a bad idea today.
Q: How real is the possibility of a peripheral canal getting built?
A: It's a real part of the long-term plan. If they move forward, it will likely get caught up in court battle, after court battle, after court battle. The water discussion in California is like watching a dog chasing its tail. It's important that we find a long-term solution so Southern California doesn't depend on 80 percent of its water coming from the North. It doesn't make me comfortable. Earthquakes or terrorist attacks could put them at risk.
Q: Will something be done by the end of the special legislative session?
A: If a deal we can live with is struck by Oct. 10 it would be great, but time is running out. If I were a betting man, I would say there is a 30 percent chance of something getting done. The question is: Are voters going to want to pass a $12 billion bond in this economy?
Q: What's the best way to describe your plan?
A: I would refer to it as replumbing the Delta. It restores the flow of the Old River and keeps Delta smelt out of the water supply that gets pumped south. The smelt will stay in their natural habitat, the estuary, and will not be sucked into the pumps. It also helps the San Joaquin River salmon run to return. The salmon will be able to swim through the Delta, into the estuary, then to the bay and finally to the ocean. It will improve water quality in the Delta because cleaner Sacramento River water will be used to flush water from the central and southern Delta.
Q: How long would your plan take to build?
A: We have had private studies regarding selenium and hydrology done already, but the government needs to conduct studies of its own. However, our studies are far enough along that we are putting it into language. The construction of the project itself should only take about a year to a year and a half.
Q: Are we nearing or past the point of no return with our water issues?
A: Anything we do we should have done yesterday. Even if my plan goes through, it would take at least two years, and that is two years too late for some farmers. My heart bleeds for them; we can't give them a real rosy picture. We are the world's breadbasket and it's a tragedy we don't save any water.