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Berryhill working on sensible Delta solution for state water, fish needs

POSTED May 22, 2012 9:22 p.m.

It doesn't have to be "us" against "them" in California water politics.
The 45-mile tunnel advanced by Southern California interests to make sure the Sacramento River water they use doesn't have to mingle with the Delta and the San Joaquin River flows would make the ecological and economical damage that the Los Angeles Water Department did to Owens Valley look like a positive thing in comparison.
Southern California water interests - and to a lesser degree those in the East Bay - want their water as clean as possible to avoid further costly treatment. They also don't want to be at the mercy of minimum water flows needed to protect the Delta.
Freely translated that would leave the state's poorest region - the San Joaquin Valley - as the patsy to supply water to meet basic Delta needs during drought years while water continues flowing south unabated in a tunnel.
It doesn't matter that the end water users supposedly will foot the bill. The ultimate result could very easily lay waste to much of the San Joaquin Valley's agriculture and choke off economic growth in the Valley while the arid south state continues on its merry way.
But simply keeping our fingers crossed to see the tunnel plan die doesn't do any of us any good. This is California. We are all in this together - the south state, farmers, the East Bay, outdoorsmen and environmentalists.
That is why if the tunnel - or "chunnel" as some call the 45-mile conveyance that could easily drain the life out of the Delta and San Joaquin Valley economies - is killed there must be an alternative advanced.
The most vexing problem among many in the Delta involves protecting fish.
Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, working with water experts that included Russell T. Brown, has cobbled together the framework of a proposal that would provide clean, adequate water supplies to Southern California, South San Joaquin Valley farmers, and the Bay Area as well as protect fish flows and the environment.
And it could be accomplished with a heck of a lot less money.
In its most basic form the Berryhill plan involves:
• Building a bypass facility to divert San Joaquin River water past the pumps that ship water south via the California Aqueduct at Tracy.
• Building up and flooding state-owned Sherman Island on the western edge of the Delta to capture excess water. It would have the potential to store upwards of a million acre feet of water for various purposes.
• A fish screen at Walnut Grove would separate Sacramento River fish from the water supply corridor that feeds the Tracy pumps.
• Dredging key channels that have been allowed to fill with sediment for as long as 60 years in some instances. This would improve water carrying capacity, improve fish conditions, enhance quality, and enhance flood protection.
Berryhill has been pushing to have the plan given a serious look in Sacramento. It has gotten out of committee twice only to languish and die in the appropriations committee. The study to determine its viability is expected to cost upwards of $1 million.
The plan takes into account that water conditions - in terms of quality - are weaker on the San Joaquin River. It essentially avoids diluting the cleaner water from the Sacramento River which in turn requires less water volume to "flush" the Delta.
It would involve a series of flood gates and boat locks. Two divided channels near Clifton Court Forebay - one a mile long and the other .75 miles - would keep the San Joaquin and Sacramento River waters from co-mingling. Siphons under the Old River Channel before the forebay would allow the Sacramento River water to continue into the state canal system and avoid mixing with San Joaquin River water. It would be designed to handle 15,000 cubic feet of water a second.
Treated wastewater discharges from Manteca, Stockton, Tracy, and Mountain House - a big sticking point with south state water users - would be conveyed in to the estuary without being pumped from the Delta as part of the Central Valley Project and Street Water Project exporters. It essentially avoids sending San Joaquin River watershed water south.
The plan looks like the best shot at adequately addressing all needs in a relatively equal manner without incurring mega-debt.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.

 

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