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California group fears drought barriers will harm boating

The Recreational Boaters of California are concerned that emergency drought barriers being planned for three sloughs in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will have negative effects on the boating community and economy.

The emergency drought barriers would be three rock dams constructed across Steamboat Slough, Sutter Slough and False River and could be in place in early May.

Jerry Desmond, director of government relations at the RBOC, said the group is requesting “a meaningful dialogue with the boating community to discuss the plan, its impacts and actions that can be taken to preserve free navigation in the Delta.

Concerns that Desmond outlined are:

• There has not been a direct and serious engagement with the boating community in advance of a decision to proceed with the three barriers

• The three barriers would block key Delta waterways that are popular with boaters during the prime boating season of May through December

• The plan to accommodate boaters with boat ramps on the Steamboat Slough barrier is insufficient, as many boats navigating the slough exceed the under-22-foot limitation for the ramp and boat portage.

• The drought conditions have diminished significantly since the period of time when the plan was developed to proceed with the emergency drought barriers, calling into question the need for emergency barriers.

• There is no commitment to remove the barriers in November, as announced.

• If the state plans to retain the barriers, it is critical that operable boat locks be installed as an integral design component to provide boaters with the uninhibited ability to navigate in those waterways.

In a fact sheet, the Department of Water Resources for California said extreme drought conditions have altered the normal pattern of river interaction with the tides.

“Calendar year 2013 was California’s driest 12-month period on record, and precipitation in the first months of 2014 has been far below normal,” the statement said. “We must manage existing supplies to ensure we can meet multiple needs through the fall or even next year, should conditions stay dry.”

Boat businesses in the state have already been affected by the severe drought, although it has largely been focused on the offseason.

Don Galey, president of Galey’s Marine in Bakersfield, Calif., told Trade Only in late winter that the drought is affecting business.

“Our business has been off because the attitude is ‘What the hell do I want to buy a boat for? I can’t put it in the water,’” Galey said in a Soundings Trade Only report. “The lakes are down between 87 and 96 percent. Even launching ramps don’t go down that far. So yes, it is a crisis. The good news is we could play catch-up in a hurry.”

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