Walters: A half-century later, Delta water bypass still just a notion

I first heard the time period “peripheral canal” greater than forty years in the past, throughout a discussion board of state water
officers in Stockton. It got here from the lips of William Gianelli, who had returned to his birthplace to tout a canal to hold Sacramento River water across the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the top of the state’s new aqueduct close to Tracy.

Gianelli, then Gov. Ronald Reagan’s prime water official — and different managers of the State Water
Venture believed that bypassing the Delta was the important remaining hyperlink within the large system to
carry water from the state’s northernmost reaches to San Joaquin Valley farmers and quick-rising Southern California cities.

The Delta was a possible bottleneck to full deliveries of promised water. However there was robust native opposition to the canal due to fears it will rob the Delta of a lot-wanted freshwater flows and criticism from environmentalists, who feared that enhancing the plumbing could lead on to dams on much more Northern California rivers, particularly the Eel.

Gianelli couldn’t get the canal formally began, however there was some oblique excavation —
“barrow pits” to provide dust for development of Interstate 5 between Sacramento and Stockton
that might turn into a part of the canal have been it ever constructed.

When Jerry Brown succeeded Reagan as governor in 1975, he took up the canal’s trigger, in search of to finish the long-lasting water plan his father, former Gov. Pat Brown, had begun. The youthful Brown argued that bypassing the Delta wouldn’t solely be extra environment friendly, however would shield fish from being broken by the pull of highly effective pumps feeding the California Aqueduct.

When he wasn’t operating for president, Brown put an immense quantity of political power into
pushing canal authorization via the Legislature. Nevertheless, he violated one of many cardinal
tenets of Capitol politics — get all main stakeholders aboard, or reside to remorse it.

Brown’s help was largely confined to Los Angeles political and water pursuits and he confronted
persevering with opposition from environmentalists and stiff resistance from San Joaquin farmers, who
believed the revised canal plan was too restrictive.

They then shaped an odd-bedfellows alliance and repealed the peripheral canal invoice by way of a poll referendum in 1982.

That vote iced critical dialogue of a Delta “conveyance” for years, till Arnold Schwarzenegger turned governor. A plan to construct the bypass —this time within the type of twin tunnels — with out one other legislative vote was devised and has been slowly evolving for greater than a decade, with Brown as soon as once more taking over the trigger after returning to the governorship in 2011.

It supposedly is near occurring, notably after advocates beat again a 2016 poll measure
that might have not directly killed the undertaking. However it nonetheless wants monetary commitments from water
businesses to underwrite the bonds for development, pegged at $17.1 billion, and that could be its

Final week, the board of the state’s largest agricultural water district, Westlands,
voted 7-1 towards collaborating, citing excessive prices. If that holds, it might be a deadly blow, as a result of different water businesses must pay much more to shut the monetary hole.

The opposite main participant, Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District, continues to be formally
supportive, however hasn’t taken a proper vote and faces inner dissension, notably from its
largest member, the San Diego County’s Water Authority, which doubts that the venture is

Westlands may be enjoying a recreation of hen. It has prompt that its prices be mitigated by
getting extra money from different water customers, together with people who wouldn’t profit immediately or,
implicitly, from taxpayers.

“WaterFix,” because the tunnel challenge is now dubbed, isn’t lifeless but, however have been it to break down after extra
than a half-century of planning and politicking, it will depart an indelible stain on Brown’s
legacy and depart California’s lengthy-time period water provide state of affairs in limbo.

CALmatters is a public curiosity journalism enterprise dedicated to explaining how California’s
state Capitol works and why it issues. For extra tales by Dan Walters, go to

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