“Some people have made a joke of the Million Boat Float,” said Oakley City Councilman Bruce Connelley in a speech during a rally on the steps of the state Capitol Monday. “Obviously it wasn’t a million. But what we are doing is representing the million people who are being affected by the activities in this Capitol. My wife said maybe we should have called it the Delta Boat Float. We are here and got attention and brought a lot of light to the subject. We only had a few weeks to plan this thing.”
Connelley criticized former state Assemblyman Phil Isenberg, who chaired the Delta Blue Ribbon Task Force, for being uninterested in the concerns that Delta users expressed at a meeting. “He sat there and said nothing,” said Connelley. “It’s a sham, it’s been a sham and it continues to be a sham.
“I invited the governor to be here today. I got a response: ‘Sorry, he’s busy.’ I said I understand you may have some family issues with his mother-in-law, but I believe those issues are taken care of. I e-mailed back to his people and asked why (he won’t attend the rally) if it’s not a family issue. Their response: ‘Sorry, he’s busy.’ He needs to answer to the people of the Delta, and he needs to do it soon.”
Lauritzen Yacht Harbor owner Chris Lauritzen of Oakley, who captained the safety boat on Sunday’s float, was disappointed that more boaters did not join the crusade.
“It would have been nice to have several hundred boats,” he said. “We would have liked more trailerable boats where they drove around the Capitol. We weren’t there to disrupt people. We were there to make a statement and show we are concerned about the water issues.”
Lauritzen said the boaters gathered in the area of the Antioch Bridge at 8 a.m., passed through Rio Vista around 10 a.m., got to Walnut Grove at noon, Courtland at 2 p.m. and arrived in Sacramento just after 5 p.m. They were greeted along the way with people holding up signs reading, “Save Property Values,” “Save Delta Farms,” “No Peripheral Canal!” “Save Our Delta” and “Let the People Vote!”
“It was a wonderful trip, fun,” said Lauritzen. “We traveled the same route that the Delta King and Queen did in 1927. It’s somewhat historic on the old Sacramento River and the same way salmon go to spawn from the ocean.”
But the pleasant nature of a Delta boat cruise did not detract from the seriousness of its purpose. The issue the participants are most concerned about is the proposal to construct a canal, probably along the eastern edge of the Delta, that would take fresh water from the river near Sacramento and transfer it to the pumping stations near Byron to be sent south to Central Valley farms and southern California residents.
Delta users fear that this would result in a decrease in water quality, especially increased salinity, further harming the fragile Delta ecosystem, East County’s drinking water supply and fishing.
“The water issue is going to impact every person one way or the other in Northern California,” said Lauritzen. “And if we don’t get behind it and fight it and come up with some solutions, we are going to be worse off than what we are now. The peripheral canal is not the solution. We only have so much (water) to divvy out. The peripheral canal is not a water plan.”
County Supervisor Mary Piepho is following in the footsteps of her late father, former state Sen. John Nejedly, by working with representatives from the other four Delta counties to fight the canal plan. Nejedly and others were able to get an earlier canal plan killed through a ballot initiative in 1982.
“The governor’s getting ready to slam that canal down our throats once again,” said Piepho. “There’s significant legislative support for it. We are at great risk from the legislative process and the governor’s desire to build a legacy project that is the size of a Panama Canal right through our Delta. They are anxious to send more water around our Delta, which would be devastating and sucking more water than is available through a conveyance facility.
“We may have to go into the initiative (process) and full-on war. My dad said, ‘When I die they will bring back the peripheral canal.’ We are working hard (to fight it). Public awareness is very low on this. We should all remember the water shortages and limits on showering and brown lawns. That awareness should be front and center in our minds and advocacy.”