SAN FRANCISCO -- The nation's top resources manager said Monday he doubts Northern California fears of a water grab will come to pass even as he left open the door to increasing exports from the Delta.
Speaking at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he thinks it may be possible to increase water deliveries even though studies to date appear to show farms and cities in both Southern and Northern California already take too much water to maintain a healthy estuary.
Salazar later visited Oakley to inspect a new Contra Costa Water District water intake screen meant to keep fish from getting killed.
Calling the Delta the "granddaddy" of California water puzzles, Salazar told his San Francisco audience that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan now being worked out would prove not to be detrimental to the region. The plan is controversial in the Delta and other parts of Northern California because of concerns it could further dewater the estuary.
"I don't think you will find those fears to be founded," he said.
Salazar said building a new aqueduct around the Delta might increase the flexibility of water operations in such a way that it could lead to more water deliveries.
But he also pledged to be guided by science. "We're not taking shortcuts on the science," he said.
Last year, state regulators produced a report mandated by lawmakers that suggested greatly increasing the amount
A spokesman for the California salmon industry said that paper and other research shows that use of Delta water will have to be reduced.
"The science is clearly in conflict with what the water boards and the water agencies want," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "The question becomes are you going to follow the physical science and the biological science, or the political science?"
Grader, who asked Salazar about his commitment to making decisions based on science, praised the Obama Administration's support for restoration on West Coast rivers like the San Joaquin, the Klamath and the Elwha River in Washington state.
Asked how he felt about the Obama administration's approach to the Delta, Grader said, "cautious."
The Contra Costa fish screen, funded with $29 million from the 2009 federal stimulus package, is made up of 31 stainless steel panels that stretch the length of a football field.
The apertures in each panel are just 1/16-inch wide, preventing even the smallest of fish, including the imperiled Delta smelt, from being sucked into pumps and killed, said Contra Costa Water District General Manager Jerry Brown.
"Here you see the achievement of those goals," Salazar said, referring to balancing environmental protection and water supply.
But he also credited local lawmakers and the general public for backing the fish screens.
"These things happen at the end of the day because the local community supports them," Salazar said.
Salazar's talk in San Francisco, "A Morning on the Water," included several shots at congressional Republicans who have pushed legislation that would scuttle protection of endangered fish in the Delta and defund a plan to restore the San Joaquin River.
He spoke in positive terms about a plan to remove four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River.
Salazar is expected to make a decision on that plan next March.
A study due out Thursday will show removing the dams will be a net economic plus for the region, he said.