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Task Force Supports More Storage to Restore Delta

Sun November 25, 2007 - West Edition

SACRAMENTO (AP) The state should build dams, encourage underground water storage and find ways to bypass the heart of the delta as the main conduit for sending water to Southern California, according to a draft plan released Oct. 18.

The proposal by a commission created earlier this year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger embraces key initiatives being promoted by Republicans and Democrats who are trying to negotiate a water bond for a 2008 ballot.

Although the delta plan is still being shaped, with the final version due next month, the latest draft provides clues into how the panel views California’s water and wildlife problems.

In what would be an underlying policy shift, task force members said water deliveries should no longer take priority over the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta’s wildlife. Instead, the commission said both interests are of equal value.

Water users should expect fewer exports out of the delta in the future, the report said.

“It’s a reverse mind-set among many who thought there was an unlimited supply of water,” said Phil Isenberg, chairman of the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force. “That era, if it ever existed, has very clearly come to an end.”

Among the panel’s tasks is to recommend a plan to restore the health of the delta, one of the most important wildlife habitats on the West Coast, and to keep the water flowing to California’s cities and farms.

Drinking water for two-thirds of the state’s residents passes through the delta, a tangle of rivers, canals, estuaries and islands that stretches from the foot of the Sierra Nevada to San Francisco Bay.

The panel’s report gives a stronger voice to reservoirs and underground storage than a previous draft version it issued last month. Lawmakers of both parties praised that change.

Schwarzenegger has promoted building two new dams and expanding a third to shore up the state’s water supplies as part of his $10.3 billion water bond proposal. He also wants to help manage floods in the Central Valley and capture extra water for fish.

Democrats are less enthusiastic about dedicating state money to build dams. Instead, their $6.8 billion bond proposal allows cities and counties to compete for state money and create their own solutions, which could include building local reservoirs or pumping water into underground aquifers.

While the task force supports additional water storage, it does not specify where dams should be built. Its report also states that building new aqueducts to move water south would not succeed without additional storage.

The legislative tug-of-war over placing a water bond before voters is being pushed in part by a federal court order that will force California to cut its water deliveries from the delta by a third starting in December. The reduced pumping is intended to protect the threatened delta smelt.

Lawmakers already are avoiding the stickiest issues being suggested by the commission.

Neither the Republican nor the Democratic bond proposal includes money for a canal to pipe water around the delta. Members of the task force as well as water experts throughout the state have said that move would safeguard water deliveries against levee breaks, sea level rise and wildlife needs.

The report also proposes banning development in the floodplains of the delta, creating a new entity to govern the region and developing emergency response plans.

“The floodplains are fundamentally an unsafe place for housing developments,” said Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who has authored bills seeking to end construction in the flood-prone areas of the Central Valley.

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