Delta must be saved, say all speakers at symposium

LODI -- The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is not only worth saving but it also is essential that it be saved was the message delivered loudly and clearly by a wide array of politicians, activists, lawyers and environmentalists Saturday at symposium attended by about 250 people.

Every speaker on five panels insisted that the delta must be saved, and most decried any attempts to divert water around the delta or take more for farms and cities outside the region.

The delta, which stretches from around Ripon to north of Sacramento, is the largest estuary on the Pacific coast of North America. It drains the entire Central Valley watershed, including the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. It has been the focus of intense political debate over the past year as drought and court decisions to protect endangered fish species have curtailed water exports through the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project.

Farmers in the south San Joaquin Valley are insisting that pumping be resumed while many in Sacramento are recommending that a canal be built through or around the delta to move Sacramento River water directly to the pumps.

The symposium was sponsored by Restore the Delta, a coalition of landowners, activists and environmentalists based in Stockton.

Canal called a bad concept

Several of those who spoke insisted that such a canal is a bad idea.

"Our opponents are extremely well-organized and well-funded," said Bill Jennings, a longtime delta advocate and recipient of an award from Restore the Delta. "And they are perfectly willing to sacrifice farmers (and) fish ... in order to irrigate the desert."

Manteca farmer Alex Hildebrand also received an award, and told the audience, "Societies rise, flourish and eventually crash because they misuse their water. ... As those ancient civilizations fell, they trashed their environment."

State Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who represents four of the five counties that make up the delta, including parts of San Joaquin County, spoke of her plan to create a Delta Conservancy, which would act as a conduit for funds and studies for the area.

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, was the keynote speaker and endorsed the concept if not the specifics. "We need to protect this delta, and we're going to do that," he told the crowd in his brief remarks. But he also sounded a vaguely conciliatory tone: "My understanding is that there's never been a war fought in the United States over water -- and we're not going to start one now."

But he was clear that the delta must be protected: "The time for action is now. Twenty years from now we're going to look back on this and say, 'We did what we had to do.' "

Among others in attendance were brothers Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, and Bill Berryhill, R-Ceres, both members of the Assembly; Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez; retired state Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden, the third recipient of an award; and former Assembly member Greg Aghazarian.