Chronicle Editorial: Delta pipes pitch less than perfect

That's why the governor is wasting no opportunity to drum up enthusiasm ahead of the pipe plan's approaching deadline. On Feb. 7, he showed up wearing a red-and-black-checked flannel shirt at a farm equipment show in Colusa County with first lady Anne Gust Brownand first dog Sutter. He perched on a tractor and worked the crowd. But pipes possibly 33-feet in diameter to move water south will be a tough sell in a Northern California agricultural county where voters resoundingly rejected his 1982 plan for a Peripheral Canal.

The next day, when federal officials ordered pumping to farms, cities and water districts serving 25 million people in Southern and Central California temporarily reduced because too many endangered delta smelt had been sucked into the state and federal water system's pumps, the Brown administration seized the moment.

"The current plumbing configuration in the delta serves neither people nor fish and wildlife well," said Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin. "California needs a rational discussion of the options presented by the BDCP (Bay Delta Conservation Plan, i.e., the pipe plan), because to do nothing invites disaster."

The smelt, which lives only in the delta, is a legal marker. Since a 2008 court decision, pumping is permitted until a certain number of dead smelt are found in the pumps. Then it is restricted. Brown's pipe plan would divert water from the Sacramento River, where the smelt don't live.

Last month, a consortium of environmental groups, business interests and water agencies proposed an alternative: a less costly, single pipe project with the savings going to develop local water storage facilities around the state. As often happens with political compromises, few like it.

The State Water Contractors Association and the Brown administration rejected it, saying it would cost 60 percent of the twin-pipe plan but move only a third of the water. The delta farmers, who oppose any pipe and related environmental restoration that would convert farmland to wetlands, saw it as a political nonstarter.

The pipe idea - single or double - won't address the need to take less water from the delta (delta exports rose to a record in 2011), and it disturbs the flow through the delta needed to maintain the salmon population.

The governor needs to forget the flannel shirt and embrace a plan that keeps more water in the delta.


Delta water exports

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