Report Recommends 'Peripheral Canal' Around Delta

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The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta supplies water to two-thirds of California's population. But climate change, drought, and threats to endangered fish have made it tougher to take water out of the Delta. A new report recommends building a "peripheral canal" to pump water around the Delta as the best way to send the water where it's needed. KPCC's Julie Small reports that's sure to rile some Northern Californians.

Julie Small: California uses massive pumps to pull water from the Sacramento River through the Delta and send it to the Central Valley and Southern California. Ellen Hanak with the Public Policy Institute of California says that constant pumping causes problems for the Delta's fish.

Ellen Hanak: Including catching some fish and larvae at the pumps, but also displacing populations of fish and altering the habitat in ways that make it much less hospitable for the native fish in the Delta.

Small: Last year, a federal judge ordered a temporary shutdown of the pumps because the tiny Delta smelt had plummeted to near-extinction. The pumps are running now, but far below peak levels. Hanak says California's best option is to build a "peripheral canal" to move water around the Delta.

That would protect the fish, and ensure a ready supply of drinking water for Southern California. But suggesting the state build a peripheral canal is likely to elicit a backlash from Northern Californians. They see it as a Southern California water grab, and they fought hard to defeat a peripheral canal ballot measure 26 years ago. But the Public Policy Institute's Ellen Hanak says times have changed.

Hanak: I hope that California isn't going to be stuck living in the past and has the ability to look at this in a proactive way and recognize that the Delta is changing, and that we're facing a real crisis.

Small: For one thing, the fish species in the Sacramento Delta are worse off than they were 26 years ago. And today, the Bay Area relies more heavily on Delta water than Southern California. Hanak says that alone should increase the political odds for a peripheral canal.