SACRAMENTO (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown on Wednesday called for building a peripheral canal to help solve California’s water shortages, a proposal voters defeated when he was governor in 1982.
In a plan he released on his website, Brown endorsed building a canal or tunnel around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta as a way to improve the quality of the water now sent to Southern California and Central Valley farmers.
“The goal must be to maintain and enhance water supplies for all Californians and take action to restore the Bay-Delta and meet California’s true water needs,” Brown’s plan states.
Overhauling how California moves water around the state is a critical issue in a state where most of the water supply is in the north but most of the people live in the south.
The delta in Northern California is the hub of the state’s water system, but the pumps that divert water to farmers in the Central Valley and residents of the Bay Area and Southern California have been blamed for a massive decline in fish populations.
Scientists also say water conditions in the delta have worsened while rising sea levels and earthquakes threaten its fragile earthen levees.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, along with Southern California water agencies, have argued a canal around the delta would ensure more reliable water supplies while protecting the estuary’s fragile ecoystem. But environmentalists and many Northern California communities continue to oppose a canal, saying it would take too much fresh water from the delta.
Brown previously has said California needs a better system to more efficiently move water, but the Democrat’s water plan is his most explicit support of a canal or tunnel to help to deal with the state’s current water troubles.
He said any canal must protect the delta’s ecosystem and must be paid for by those would benefit, not taxpayers. His plan also calls for programs to facilitate water transfers to farmers, increase water recycling and water conservation and improved groundwater supplies.
Brown’s opponent, Republican Meg Whitman, also supports a canal, but she has been critical of Brown’s failure to support a 2009 water bond adopted by the Legislature that would set aside money for dams and other water projects around the state.
“Jerry Brown couldn’t get the peripheral canal built when he was governor previously, and currently doesn’t support the water bond that would help move the project forward,” said Whitman spokesman Darrel Ng.
The water bond doesn’t set any money aside for a canal. Related water legislation defers the decision about a canal to a federal-state task force and a newly formed delta council.
Brown helped win passage of a peripheral canal 29 years ago, arguing it would provide better water quality for fish while giving Southern California more water. But voters overwhelming defeated the plan a year later, with much of the opposition coming from Northern California fearful of a water grab.
A peripheral canal is popular among Central Valley voters where farmers have faced water shortages, in part because pumping in the delta has been curtailed over the last few years to protected a threatened fish. The biggest culprit, however, was a three-year drought that left state and federal reservoirs low.
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