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For Immediate Release, September 2, 2009

Contact:  Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 986-2600

Delta Legislation Enabling Construction of Peripheral Canal Spells Disaster for Region's
Already Struggling Fisheries
Conservation and Fishing Groups Oppose Bill

SAN FRANCISCO—A coalition of 16 conservation, commercial-, and sport-fishing organizations sent a letter today to the state legislature opposing the badly flawed Delta bill package that is being rushed through the legislature and opposing the approval of an expensive and environmentally destructive “peripheral canal.” The legislature is currently considering legislation that serves as a road map to constructing the controversial peripheral canal and includes funding for new dams that would devastate the Bay-Delta ecosystem and its native fisheries.

“Given crashing fish populations and water shortages, any discussions, planning, or spending on new infrastructure to divert Sacramento River and Delta water simply don’t make sense,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Why should we entrust the agencies and the governor with additional governance authority for a new canal to divert even more water when they have presided over record water diversions, the collapse of native fish populations, and the destruction of our salmon fishery?”

The Center for Biological Diversity is the first national conservation group to take a position against the peripheral canal. Other signatories to the letter sent today to the Senate president pro tem are commercial- and sport-fishing associations and watershed restoration groups.

A package of five bills regarding the Bay-Delta is currently being considered by the state legislature. A politically stacked conference committee is scheduled to consider the bills this week and send the package to the floor for vote next week before the legislative recess. The bills would enable construction of the peripheral canal and restructure California's water laws and governance. They would establish a political committee (four of the seven members would be appointed by the governor) that could authorize the canal without voter approval, would weaken existing environmental laws, and provide no enforceable standards for fishery restoration.

A draft economic report released to the legislature last week reveals that the proposed canal could cost a staggering $54 billion. This dangerous legislation would indebt Californians for decades to come and exacerbate the unprecedented collapse of Central Valley salmon and steelhead, delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon, Sacramento splittail, and other Delta fish populations. The impacts could reverberate beyond the Bay-Delta ecosystem and affect other species that depend on these fish, such as southern orcas and seabirds.

“No aspect of this budget-busting project makes sense at a time when native fish populations have collapsed due to unsustainable water diversions and state parks are being closed by budget problems,” said Miller. “After three decades of failing to solve the fisheries and water quality issues in the Delta, lawmakers are now rushing to approve a patchwork package of misguided bills in the last weeks of this legislative session.”

Though the sponsors of the legislation claim they are not authorizing a peripheral canal, the legislation would give a governor who has declared his intent to build it the majority of votes on a council that would have the authority to fund and construct it. The bills will weaken existing environmental laws and guarantee water for west San Joaquin Valley agriculture while ignoring the toxic drainage problems from these lands that degrade Delta fisheries, ecology, and water quality. Aside from the fact that there is no “surplus” water to fill a peripheral canal even if it is built, the current legislation fails to solve the key conflict of providing reliable water supply while protecting fish populations.

The signatory groups to the letter are the Center for Biological Diversity, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Friends of the River, Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fishermen's Association, Crab Boat Owners Association of San Francisco, Water for Fish, Institute for Fisheries Restoration, Diablo Valley Fly Fishermen, Granite Bay Flycasters, Golden West Women Flyfishers, Mission Peak Fly Anglers, Alameda Creek Alliance, Friends of the Creeks, Friends of the Arroyos, Nature in the City, and Lake Merritt Institute.

The Center for Biological Diversity has been working to secure federal Endangered Species Act protections for imperiled Bay-Delta and Sacramento River native fish species such as steelhead trout, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, Sacramento splittail, green sturgeon, and Pacific lamprey.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 225,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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