PPIC: Peripheral Canal Best Strategy to Save Delta Ecosystem

Building a peripheral canal to carry water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is the most promising strategy to balance two critical policy goals: reviving a threatened ecosystem and ensuring a high-quality water supply for California's residents. That is the central conclusion of a report released July 17 by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Although it would be best for fish populations if California stopped using the Delta as a water source altogether, this would be an extremely costly strategy, according to the report, authored by a multidisciplinary team including Ellen Hanak, PPIC associate director and senior fellow, and Jay Lund, William Fleenor, William Bennett, Richard Howitt, Jeffrey Mount, and Peter Moyle from the University of California, Davis.

The PPIC-UC Davis team concludes that a peripheral canal is not only more promising than the temporary and ultimately unsustainable "dual conveyance" option – which combines the current approach with a canal – but is also the best available strategy to balance two equally important objectives.

"Coupling a peripheral canal – the least expensive option – with investment in the Delta ecosystem can promote both environmental sustainability and a reliable water supply," Hanak says.

The new report, Comparing Futures for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, builds on the findings of a 2007 PPIC study by the same team, which concluded that the need for a new Delta strategy is urgent. The new report was funded in part by Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

"This report shows the way to change the future of the Delta toward a sustainable system," said Timothy F. Brick, chair of the board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. "The old Peripheral Canal of the 1980s was all about water supply and perceived water needs. The alternative conveyance is about preparing for climate change, ensuring against seismic risk, and balancing the needs of the environment and the economy."

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is a cooperative of 26 cities and water agencies serving 18 million people in six counties. The district imports water from the Colorado River and Northern California to supplement local supplies and helps members develop increased water conservation, recycling, storage, and other resource-management programs.

Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) Executive Director Timothy Quinn said "We agree that the current system is unsustainable and is failing both our environment and our economy. It will take tremendous investment and leadership to make our system sustainable so it can meet the co-equal objectives of restoring the ecosystem and improving water supply reliability for the economy."

ACWA is a statewide association of public agencies whose 450 members are responsible for about 90 percent of the water delivered in California.

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