Delta Protection and Peripheral Canal Issues Emerge as Crucial to Region



Daily Democrat Editorial’s Criticism of Senator Wolk Unfounded –

On July 10, the Woodland Daily Democrat ran an editorial criticizing the efforts of local legislative leadership to address the dangers facing the Sacramento Delta.  The editorial argued that while Delta protection might be important, the budget was the top priority, and clearly all 120 legislators must have been involved in the 24/7 pursuit of budget negotiations.

The Vanguard would argue that it is impractical for all legislators to spend their complete attention on a single issue–even an issue as important as the budget.  Moreover, there are other issues facing the state.  Discussion in Sacramento has suggested that once the budget issue was resolved–and it was for better or for worse last week–the most important issue was going to become the delta, water, and the peripheral canal.  Our representatives in Sacramento need to take the lead on this issue as Yolo County is one of five Delta Counties.  Senator Lois Wolk as well as Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada deserve credit rather than blame for working on this issue that is crucial to both the 5th Senate District, the 8th Assembly District, and indeed all of California.

The Editorial and Defense by County Supervisors

The July 10th editorial focused its scrutiny on Senator Wolk and a contingent of state officials, fishermen, community activists, and environmentalists, who spent time on July 7 to address issues that face the delta.  Senator Wolk was joined by Lt Governor John Garamendi, Senator Mark DeSaulnier, Assemblymembers Mariko Yamada, Joan Buchanan, Alyson Huber, and several county supervisors including Supervisors Mike McGowan and Jim Provenza from Yolo County.

Writes the Daily Democrat:

Well, as much as “we” all love the Delta and the water that flows through it, “we” also love balanced budgets, checks issued by the state that aren’t “IOUs,” and a Legislature that works together for the benefit of Californians instead of being in perpetual gridlock.

In reality, few seriously give a hoot about the Delta right now. Not that protection of the Delta isn’t important, mind you. It’s critical to the very survival of our agriculture and habitat. However, it’s more than a little hard to take these efforts seriously when the state is in financial meltdown, and has been that way for the past several years.

County Supervisors Mike McGowan and Jim Provenza come to the defense of Senator Wolk in a letter to the editor was that also published this past week in the Davis Enterprise.  Their focus was to suggest, correctly, that the Senator has the ability to “multi-task.”

“A recent column in The Daily Democrat criticized state Sen. Lois Wolk for working to protect Yolo County’s interests in the delta instead of focusing solely on the budget. Thank God, our good senator has the ability to multi-task.

With more than $100 million in Yolo County agriculture that could be jeopardized by some delta proposals and similar impacts in other counties, Wolk has emerged as a hero to those who wish to save the delta while protecting vital community interests.”

Indeed, Senator Wolk while taking time to address her trademark issue of Delta Protection was also instrumental in helping to restore local funds that were raided by the state.

However, they also point out the importance of the Delta.

“Sen. Wolk is representing the best interests of her constituents – all of them. As the representative of four of the five counties in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, she is living up to her responsibilities by working to ensure that the delta has an ongoing role in its own management. She’s been a strong advocate for the delta’s more than half a million residents since becoming a public servant – and she’s one of the only voices in Sacramento actually speaking for the needs of the delta community.”

The Delta Issue

The issue of water, the peripheral canal, and protecting the delicate eco-system of the Delta are crucial to the vitality of Yolo County and indeed both the 5th Senate District and 8th Supervisorial District.  A recent proposal has sought to bring back the peripheral canal as a means to address short and longer term water issues.

As a recent Op-Ed by Restore the Delta that appeared in the Capitol Weekly suggests:

“There needs to be some honest answers about the impacts of potential projects on the Delta. The region is home to more than 500,000 Californians and is a key source for agriculture, fishing, hunting and other related economic activities; it is more than a debate on the economic value of corporate agriculture vs. Delta fish. It is also the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas, but it is an ecosystem in danger of collapse. Any changes to the Delta could mean increased exposure to pollutants in the waters, increased costs for water and water treatment, reduced farm production, greater loss of commercial fishing and a higher risk of flooding.”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta’s campaign director spoke at the rally in early July.

“The Delta is on the brink of environmental collapse as the result of a failed water system that does nothing more than move water from north to south.  The legislature’s answer is to fund a project that will cost Californians billions of dollars in new bonds and impose millions of dollars of new fees at the same time cutting public safety, health and education services to all Californians. We want real solutions, programs and projects that will capture, recycle, and treat water, programs that are cost effective and environmentally sound, programs that will stop the insanity of moving water from north to south through or around the Delta.”

The Peripheral Canal

In a statement to the Vanguard, Senator Wolk made it clear that the current debate is not simply about the peripheral canal, but rather it is about the best means to preserve the unique resources of the Delta.

“We need real solutions for the Delta, not just a narrow focus on expensive new plumbing that may or may not help the Delta and the Delta communities recover from this crisis,” she said.

She continued:

“The Delta is the heart of California’s water system.  It provides water to Southern California and the Bay Area and is a vital habitat for salmon, sturgeon and countless waterfowl.  But it is far more than that. It is home to 500,000 people, 27 cities, 5 counties, two ports, historic communities older than most California cities, and a multi billion dollar economy including commercial fisheries and thriving agriculture.”

Unfortunately, the debate over a peripheral canal has diverted attention and energy from a discussion of the overall issues of the Delta.

“Delta communities are rightly concerned that a canal the equivalent of a 100 lane freeway and the length of the Panama Canal will be built through the heart of prime Delta farmland without their approval or any concern about the impacts on Delta communities. There are no assurances to the Delta Communities that once the Sacramento River, the largest river in California, is diverted, that the Delta itself will survive.  For many in the Legislature, the Delta remains a blank slate even though it is a stone’s throw from the Capitol.”

Like her counterpart in the Senate, Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada to the Vanguard in a phone interview that she was very concerned not only about the impact on the five delta counties but the exclusion of those stakeholders in the discussion process.

“I think it’s still premature to agree that a peripheral canal is the issue particularly for our local community, especially the five delta counties that have been alternately excluded from the discussions, invited to the discussions, and sometimes have had their comments discounted anyway.”

She continued:

“I don’t think anything should go forward without strong inclusion of the viewpoints of the five delta counties and the state representatives that actually represent the delta.”

She went on to compare the discussion to the recent TANC discussion where local concerns were ignored by statewide process.

“Yolo is not a county that should be taken lightly or just viewed as expendable in the discussion.  We have very real economic interests as well as agricultural and community interests.  Just because there are fewer people living in Yolo County should not discount our importance or significance in the discussion.”

Many believe the impact to the surrounding areas would be devastating.

Said Assemblywoman Yamada:

“Land values will certainly change as will agricultural production if there was a peripheral canal that was built through our area.  I believe it would change the communities forever and I don’t think that is something that would be disregarded.  I think we have a strong tradition of very strong agricultural and open space roots and Yolo shouldn’t be taken for granted.”

As Steve Evans, Conservation Director of Friends of the River, a statewide river conservation organization recently wrote on the California Progress Report:

“There are serious questions as to whether the Peripheral Canal will benefit the Delta’s ecosystem, fisheries, and water quality. The Public Policy Institute of California determined that there is only a 50% likelihood that the Sacramento River salmon population, which is the mainstay of the commercial salmon fishing industry in California and southern Oregon, will remain viable with a Peripheral Canal. The same report found only a 40% likelihood that the Delta smelt would remain viable with a canal.

A recent scientific evaluation of the draft Bay-Delta Conservation Plan, which is closely tied to the canal proposal, found that the benefits of Delta habitat restoration may be off-set by the negative impacts of the Peripheral Canal diversion on Sacramento River salmon. The same report indicated that the canal would do little to improve south Delta water quality or the survival of San Joaquin River salmon population.”

For both Assemblywoman Yamada and Senator Wolk, a key question is one of governance.

“The key questions about the Delta are those of governance,” said Senator Wolk.  “Who decides?   And according to which criteria?  And what assurances can be provided?  And how much water actually is needed to protect a strong and healthy Delta? Until I am convinced that these decisions are made transparently, with the Delta communities at the table and according to good science and not politics, then no bulldozer should move dirt.”

Assemblywoman Yamada pointed out that a recent Delta Blue Vision Task Force made 12 recommendations and nearly all of them have been adopted except for the governance issue.

She said:

“I think that’s because the governance discussion is the most difficult.  I’m not sure we can come to an agreement without agreeing upon how the delta as a place is going to be governed and how the interests are all going to be balanced.”


Given the importance of the Delta to the economic and environmental vitality of the region, it is not surprising that Senator Wolk as well as Assemblywoman Yamada would focus attention even during the budget crisis on this issue.

The issue of water is going to remain a hot-button issue as California deals with the potential reality of a dwindling water supply depending on whose global warming model one relies upon.

Moreover, the economic reliance of the area upon the Delta and the disruption a peripheral canal might present would be extremely harmful.

Given the nature of the legislature, it seems unjustified to expect one to spend all of one’s time on a single issue.  The Daily Democrat’s criticism was unfounded and their editorial was plainly out of line.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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10 thoughts on “Delta Protection and Peripheral Canal Issues Emerge as Crucial to Region”

  1. David M. Greenwald

    I was disappointed to see that the Daily Democrat would attack Wolk on this. I don’t always agree with her, but this issue has been a strong point for her.

  2. Pick Two, and Prune the Rhetoric!

    The citizens of California want to provide enough high quality water to meet: (1)urban (city) water demand; (2)rural (agricultural) water demand; and,(3) environmental resource protection. Because “mother nature” is not providing more rain to the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Drainage Basins, planners must curb growth in the Central Valley and we must pick two of the above for the Delta. Sorry!

  3. Don Shor

    The PPIC report clearly states that a peripheral canal is a better option for the fish than continuing the current through-Delta pumping.
    There are two pressing factors in any discussion about the Delta: the very high risk of large-scale disaster in the region, and the steady change in electoral politics.

    The state needs to build the peripheral canal, transition away from through-Delta pumping, and provide for the quality of the Delta habitat. The governance structure and guarantees to the Delta are key and our local reps should fight hard to preserve our place on that governing body. But Delta interests and our little group of counties represent a very small portion of the total number of stakeholders involved. The old CalFed process recognized the range of interest groups and worked to bridge the differences. The foundation is there for a governing structure. But the reality is that a peripheral canal is likely to be part of any longterm solution.

    The worst scenario is to do nothing until there is a disaster. That would surely result in a peripheral canal, as that would be the fastest way to restore water supply statewide after any series of levee failures, and a conveyance system built under those conditions would likely have no protections for Delta interests. The big players are the big water users. Far better to do this gradually and in a planned fashion than in post-emergency haste.

    The 1982 peripheral canal vote was very lopsided. Southern California voters approved the canal by nearly 60-40. But Northern California voters opposed it by an even higher margin. In that election the opposition was financed by an unholy alliance of NoCal conservationists and Central Valley water districts. The latter didn’t feel they got enough water guaranteed in that particular proposal. Look at the demographic changes in the state and tell me how the next vote will go, particularly with East Bay residents having only a 1 – 2 year buffer against drought (unless additional reservoir storage is built).

  4. Don Shor

    Rio Vista is the only city of any size, at population about 8,000. Walnut Grove, Courtland, Locke, and Isleton are small communities there. Pittsburg borders the south of the delta, Stockton the east, Suisun City the northwest.

  5. earoberts

    Thanks Don, for the link. Very helpful. So now my question is what percentage of Lois Wolk’s constituents live in the Delta region, do you think? Or perhaps a better question is how many people are affected by what goes on in the Delta region? I guess what I am wondering is does Lois Wolk spend so much time concerned about the Delta bc she is on that particular committee, or bc what happens in the Delta does affect so many of her constituents, or a little bit of both?

  6. Don Shor

    A very small percentage lives in the delta. As a geographic percentage the delta is the majority of SD5. Most of the delta is in her district, with a little in SD7.

    The cities in Senate District 5 include all of those in Yolo County; Fairfield, Vacaville, Suisun City, and Dixon in Solano County; Stockton, Manteca, and Tracy.
    Tracy in particular, with a population about the same as Davis, has water quality problems; they get most of their water from the delta, and it is prone to algae blooms, has mineral content, etc. With the massive water system pumps nearby, Tracy is most vulnerable to salinity intrusion when the delta “runs backward” due to pumping. They are looking to develop a clean surface supply from the Stanislaus River, which is one of the smaller rivers that joins and flows into the delta.
    Manteca, population a bit bigger than Davis, has been mixing Stanislaus river and groundwater for a few years now.
    Stockton gets water from two rivers as well as groundwater. A new project will be taking water directly from the delta for the first time. Stockton’s population is about 300,000.
    So a significant percentage of Lois’ constituents are directly affected by delta water quality and development issues. Plus I think she’s just always had a strong interest in environmental issues, and the delta is an important watershed and wetland.

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