Governor Expected to Make Peripheral Canal Announcement Wednesday

Current peripheral canal would likely harm California’s $billion plus salmon fishery

How will the proposed canal affect salmon?

As currently envisioned, the twin bores of the planned canal would be big enough to divert the entire Sacramento River from its bed at most times of the year.  One of the biggest problems for salmon could be the screened intakes in the Sacramento River that may kill juvenile salmon as they attempt to out migrate from the river to sea.  The water contractors have proposed exporting more water  with the canal.  They hope to get that additional water from  upstream reservoirs which, if over drawn, could  cause shortages in cold water needed to cool the river during the late summer and early fall when salmon lay their eggs in the river.   Salmon also need a certain degree of flow through the delta to find their way to the ocean. Shunting more water to the canal and away from the delta will harm the ability of salmon to safely transit from river to ocean.

How much economic value to salmon fishermen add to the state’s economy?  

Southwick Economics analyzed state and federal data regarding the economic contribution salmon fishing related industries make to the state’s economy.  They found the value is roughly about $1.4 billion annually with a work force of tens of thousands.  They also found that a fully restored salmon fishery in California would be worth more than $5 billion to the state annually.

How have past delta water withdrawals affected California’s salmon fishery?

From the year 2000 to 2006 record amounts of water were diverted from the delta for export to agricultural operators  on the west side of the San Joaquin valley, southern California cities and others.  These record diversions reversed the natural flows of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers in the delta pulling both off course and into the pumps.  This also pulled juvenile salmon off course which resulted in massive death.  The salmon industry paid a heavy price with collapsed salmon runs leading to the first ever closure of ocean salmon fishing in 2008 and 2009.   Restrictions on delta pumping since then have helped rebuild salmon stocks.


State water officials and the water contractors who would receive peripheral canal water pledge they’d operate the canal in a such a way that salmon are protected.  What’s wrong with this approach?

This is the old “trust us, we’ll turn down the intake valve so our water diversions don’t hurt the delta” claim.  History clearly shows those who covet salmon water in California will take as much of it as they can get away with.  They’ve done it time and again.  They’ve been reined in a bit since pumping restrictions designed to keep salmon and other fish from going extinct went into effect starting in late 2008.  The agricultural operators have been in court ever since trying to get these pumping restrictions thrown out.  Thankfully, no court has yet granted their wish but they clearly would crank the pumps as high as they’d go if allowed.  This is what they did between the year 2000 and 2006 when they set all time high pumping records.   

The water contractors and state say a canal is needed because earthquakes threaten delta levees.  Your reaction?

We’re no experts but there are some who say the existing levees could easily be fortified for a fraction of what the canal would cost.  They also make the case that fortifying the levees would be cost effective because of the natural gas pipelines, utility and water lines, farms and human lives that might all be saved if the money was spent to shore up the levees instead of building a canal.

Canal proponents say their fish screens would keep salmon out of the water withdrawn from the Sacramento River.  How do they know this?

They don’t know this.  The screens being contemplated have never been built and tested.  No canal should be permitted or allowed to move forward until and unless the fish screens are tested and verified as workable by independent scientists.

Are there credible experts who have voiced reservations about the proposed canal?  Who are they?

Independent scientists from the National Academy of Sciences have warned that the canal design does not adequately account for how much water needs to be retained in the delta to keep it alive.  Biologists and fishery expert from the National Academy of Sciences, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Dept. of Fish and Game have all warned that the canal desired by the water contractors would  pose grave risk to salmon and other species.

How much water could the salmon industry countenance in any new canal for export?

No one knows since no one has calculated how much water is needed to restore the delta and the wildlife that lives there.  Only after such calculations are done and reviewed will we know how much would be truly surplus and available for export.   Since the state and water contractors pay lip service to the need to restore the delta we say let them make good and determine the true volume of water needed for this restoration first before planning their peripheral canal.

Why would the state and water contractors proceed without doing a thorough cost/benefit analysis?

We don’t know.   Canal proponents managed to kill a bill in the state legislature that would have done exactly that.  They haven’t responded to a more recent call for the same thing that came from members of Congress representing key parts of the state.   One credible study from the University of the Pacific school of economics found that costs would outweigh benefits by 2.5 to 1.


Note:  Tours of SF Fishermen’s wharf salmon facilities and interviews available Tuesday or Wednesday.  Visit with one of the salmon processors on the wharf, b roll and photo opportunities to see commercial salmon coming across the docks, sport salmon vessels, (depending on time of day), etc.  Head chef and owner of Scoma’s seafood restaurant also available to comment on their part of the $1.4 billion annual salmon industry that could be seriously harmed by
construction of a large peripheral canal.


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Golden Gate Salmon Association media contact:

Michael Coats (707) 935-6203 office

(707) 235-6203 cell or



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