Valley Public Radio - Live Audio

Sacramento San Joaquin Delta Residents Oppose State's Canal Plan

Oct 15, 2012

The Sacramento San Joaquin delta supplies drinking water for more than half of California. Just inland from the San Francisco bay, this patchwork of levees, farmland and waterways is threatened by rising seawater.  But people who live there say the state's plan to take freshwater from north of the delta will only make things worse 

Captain Karen Mann has been coming to the delta since she was a little girl. Now she and her husband live in Discovery bay, and fish with their grandkids from their boat, the Karen Jane. She says she's worried the state's plan to build a canal would destroy the delta ecosystem:

"It would break my heart-- it would change character of delta so much," says Jane.

Right now, two pumps at the southern end of the delta take water for more than 20 million people in Southern California and agriculture in the Central valley. These pumps sometimes suck in endangered species of salmon and smelt -- and can pull in so much water they make rivers run backwards. 

The state proposal to pump fresh river water from north of the delta via a giant canal could ease this pressure.  

But delta Farmland owner Mike Robinson says the whole point of taking water from the south end of the delta was to keep freshwater flowing through the whole system.

"If the water flows through, everybody benefits, the exporters benefit, the locals benefit-- nobody has an advantage," says Robinson.

But if the canal plan goes through, Robinson says the incentive to maintain a healthy delta is gone.  And he says, diverting freshwater from ever entering the delta will increase the already-rising salinity. 

But water resource engineer Jay Lund of UC Davis says the increase in delta salt levels would be small.  

"In our modeling results, not seeing a tremendous effect, we're seeing 1% or less on agricultural productivity," says Lund.

Just how to restore the delta and still provide water to Californians is an ongoing question -- with more than ecosystems at stake.  The delta contains a network of 1,100 miles of levees that protect 4 million people and a $5 billion dollar agriculture industry.