One of the most difficult problems facing California right now is reaching consensus on the most effective way to move fresh water through and/or around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Since the current conveyance facilities and operations are incapable of accomplishing this on a consistently reliable basis, we need to find other means to continually satisfy the vital water needs of over 2/3 of the people, agriculture and industry in our State who rely on water from fresh water inflows to the Delta.
Solutions proposed to this problem are by necessity nearly unimaginable in their complexity, yet there is a thoughtful solution that has emerged from an extensive environmental impact analysis. Difficult problems demand not only thoughtful solutions, but also the faith and conviction that engineering, science and the political process can work together to effectively implement those solutions.
One such thoughtful solution is identified as Alternative 4 in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan Draft Environmental Impact Report. It was selected from among 15 alternatives — each having been evaluated under 8 different operating scenarios. It is the preferred alternative for today’s world, where effective implementation includes doing our best to mitigate the impacts of the built environment on the natural environment. At its heart, Alternative 4 proposes moving fresh water through two tunnels constructed beneath the Delta to convey water from the Sacramento River directly to the forebay that feeds the intakes of the existing Banks and Jones Pumping Plants, which in turn lift water into the State Water Project and Central Valley Project aqueduct systems.
Construction of Alternative 4 will provide a solution to future needs plus, when thoughtfully operated, it can contribute to Delta ecosystem restoration efforts. Implementation of Alternative 4 would also add a valuable measure of operational flexibility to the existing fresh water conveyance system that is especially important in the face of potential levee failures and the rising sea levels that will result from global warming.
As we continue to converge on a solution to our state’s fresh water delivery system challenge, conservation, recycling, desalination, additional surface water storage and local integrated water management measures should also continue to be pursued in parallel to Alternative 4.
There is real danger in clinging to the belief that our current 50-year old Delta conveyance system will adequately serve our present and future fresh water needs. Discounting those dangers and delaying immediate action simply transfers the problem to a future generation, and makes a viable solution even more difficult to achieve.
As a professional engineer, it is my charge to advance thoughtful solutions to difficult problems. The State of California needs and deserves the most reliable and fiscally responsible means of delivering fresh water to users south of the Delta. Further delay is not an option.
The problem is already difficult enough.
For more information on California’s water crisis, read ACEC California’s latest issues of Engineering and Surveying Business Review at the link below. You will find articles about the severe drought that continues to impact the entire state and ACEC California members offer potential solutions to our state’s water woes.