But just because the plan has already built up a head of steam doesn’t mean the game is over. If Delta residents don’t make more noise very soon, however, it will be.
Schwarzenegger is on the record as saying he supports a canal as a way to restore the Delta’s strained resources, and has enacted plans to construct the $3 million to $3 billion (depending upon which agency you ask) project under the Endangered Species Act.
Northern Californians have come late to the governor’s party, but southern Californians have been there all along and are organized, focused and driven. For months now, supporters have been steadily campaigning for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, a proposal that according to the Department of Water Resources Web site, “is to provide for the conservation of at-risk-species in the Delta and improve its reliability as the hub of the state’s water supply system.”
In a matter of weeks, construction on the 2-Gate Fish Protection Project – which is part of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan – will begin along Connection Slough and Old River near Discovery Bay. The PR blast is that the automatic gate project is a rerouting trick to protect the spawning Delta smelt from committing suicide as they swim into the water pumps on Old and Middle rivers in Byron.
According to the entities involved – the State Department of Water Resources, the Federal Bureau of Reclamation and the Southern California Metropolitan Water District – this automatic gate system will save the smelt. Proponents also claim the gates will help preserve the struggling Delta ecosystem and sustain the 1,000 miles of waterways for generations to come.
Boaters in East County are naturally concerned that the emergence of the fish gates will tax their ability to motor in and around the Delta, but there are many who contend the real issue is not about restricted recreation, but rather restricted water flow, and if Northern Californians don’t start speaking up – and soon – they will have little recourse.
The good news, however, is that there has been some movement in East County to stop –or at least plug a hole in – the looming canal, including the recent Million Boat Float protest to Sacramento. Organizations such as the Contra Costa Water Agency are also fostering awareness by speaking before small groups and organizations.
And, if you believe the pollsters, opponents are making some progress. A recently released survey conducted by EMC Research on behalf of Restore the Delta, states that more than half of the 800 registered California voters contacted by telephone were opposed to a canal after being given “some additional information, including some basic facts about the canal and the Delta,” the report read.
But the truth is that the governor doesn’t need the public’s blessing to build the canal; only the votes of his handpicked blue ribbon committee. Conversely, it is also true that there is little likelihood that one of the components of the canal – the 2-gate project – can be stopped.
Still, there are ways to make a difference. Environmental public hearings will be held, and those are powerful places for people to stand up and lend their voices to the process. Public outcry might not stop the ERIs from going through, but they can be shaped into a better compromise, or at the very least, a less-horrible outcome. There are also multiple lawsuits already underway on behalf of farmers and local water districts and it’s probable that additional suits will follow.
Delta dwellers might not be able to change what is already in motion, but that shouldn’t stop them from being counted – and soon.
For more information on the canal and 2-gates project, go to www.restorethedelta.com or www.calsport.org, where you can also click on a link to post comments to local legislators.