Kevin Hefner is a writer for Capitol Weekly. You can read more at the Capitol Weekly Web site.

Legislators backed by farmers, fisherman, environmentalists, and community activists rallied at the Capitol this week against the proposed Peripheral Canal, which would shift Northern California water to the south around the Delta.

Protesters feared the canal would damage the heart of the Delta, through which most of California’s drinking water flows. The canal has not been officially approved, but there are persistent rumors in the Capitol that the project is gaining new traction.

The group’s main concerns were that they have had no say in the process, citing the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), which has not yet been made available to the public.

“You can’t fix the Delta without the people of the Delta as your partner,” said Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Davis. “Some say it’s a roadblock for progress, but the Delta is our home, and we have a right to be involved in the discussions.”

Lt. Governor John Garamendi, a candidate for Congress in the 10th C.D., also spoke out against the plan saying, “This is too critical of a public policy issue to be done in secret. There needs to be light and transparency brought to this process. We aren’t trying to stop the process entirely; we just want to be involved.”

Also under scrutiny were the possible impacts on the region of the canal.

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, said that the proposed canal would, “redirect 15,000 cubic feet of water a second through a 500-700 foot wide, 47-mile-long canal, into the southern part of the state… More often than not, the Delta cannot sustain that kind of diversion, for example, the Delta would have only been able to achieve that kind of output only 3 months out of the entire year in 2007.”

A BDCP spokesperson, responding to Buchanan, said that “15,000 would be the maximum capacity that could be redirected by the canal. Environmental laws prevent the canal from moving that much at any one time.”

Delta resident Bob Kirtlan responded, “If you build it, they’ll use it. Once it’s built, they’ll always change the law.”

Bill Jennings, Chairman of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance said that “discarding prudent legislative deliberation and oversight is likely to lead to wasting tens of billions of dollars constructing a massive white elephant that will destroy Delta  fisheries and water quality, gravely damage the Delta economy… and cause increased litigation because of legal flaws and bad science… They treat the Delta like a reservoir, when it is really a delicate ecosystem.”

In response, the BDCP was quick to add that the canal would redirect the flow of water so that the Delta would become more natural and environmentally friendly.

The Delta community group estimated the project would cost taxpayers $20 billion to $40 billion dollars including taxes, and would affect more than 6,000 people.

They also contend that an estimated $100 million dollars would be lost from the Delta economy every year, should the canal be built.
“At a time when we are making the most regrettable cuts to basic health programs, the public must be told how much they will be asked to pay…” said Charlotte Hodde of  the Planning and Conservation League, “(and) how many in-home services or classrooms it costs to pay for this expensive project.”

“The canal would be the biggest public constructions ever made in the United States, equivalent to the Panama Canal” said Assemblywoman Buchanan, “and I want to make it clear I will not vote for a Panama Canal.”