The water legislation included support for a water conveyance system such as the proposed peripheral canal that would take fresh water from the Sacramento River near Sacramento and directly convey it south, bypassing much of the Delta. Local advocates are concerned that the canal would decrease local water quality, including adding more salinity, resulting in a further decline in the fish population.
A 14-member conference committee that included only one legislator representing the Delta (Sen. Darrell Steinberg) failed to reach agreement on the water bills before adjourning its latest session Saturday morning.
“We won the battle for now, but the war will still rage on,” said Oakley Councilman Bruce Connelley, who has been an East County leader in the lobbying effort to save the Delta, including the recent Million Boat Float from Antioch to Sacramento. “This isn’t going to be the end of it. (They) are still working hard and heavy and still fully intend to destroy the Delta and put the peripheral canal in.
“I don’t see how any logical person can think that will get more water. By putting in a canal, that will actually get less. But I guess it’s money that’s talking. There hasn’t been a proper legislative process whatsoever.”
Roger Mammon, an Oakley resident and board member of the advocacy organization Restore the Delta, credits the lobbying efforts by sport fishing groups, recreational boaters, conservation and environmental organizations, commercial fishing businesses and Delta farmers for helping head off the peripheral canal legislation for now.
“I was with a group of us that lobbied in all of the legislative offices on Friday,” said Mammon. “We didn’t get to talk to any of the legislators because they were all on the floor; we talked to the staff members. The feeling was that their legislator wasn’t going to vote for anything that they didn’t understand. There were too many things that weren’t adding up on the bills. They withdrew it from the floor because it was obvious to Senator Steinberg and (Assembly Speaker Karen) Bass that they didn’t have the votes to pass.”
Connelley believes the opposition to the water bills by representatives from the five counties bordering the Delta also contributed to the legislative impasse. “It’s pretty hard to vote against five counties that are in the heart of the area you are proposing the legislation without hearing them,” he said.
Also expressing cautious optimism is Jim Cox, president of the West Delta Chapter of the California Striped Bass Association, which is based in Antioch. Cox runs sport fishing charters on the Delta and Bay, and has seen a significant decline in salmon, striped bass and sturgeon, which he believes began with the increased shipments of Delta water south 20 years ago.
“I think the failure to pass the (water) bills is definitely a victory for us that have been trying to preserve the ecology of the Delta,” he said. “This is probably the first round (of what) will probably be a long fight. The governor (Schwarzenegger) seems to have a history of: if he can’t get it one way he will do it another. I am sure there will be another attempt at it.”
Some of the 200 members of his chapter plan to attend a Delta workshop in Brentwood this Saturday, Sept. 19 beginning at 8 a.m. in the Brentwood Senior Center, 193 Griffith Lane. The purpose of the meeting is to gain public input on the state-sponsored Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which includes provisions for a possible peripheral canal. More information is available online at www.baydeltaconservationplan.com.