New take on old idea might be answer to Delta water wars
July 16, 2012
• Engineer urges Governor to avoid massive mistake
• ‘You are not getting the best possible advice on this important issue’
A once rejected idea of how to move fresh water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project could work, if it’s revised, says Robert Pyke, a Walnut Creek consulting engineer who specializes in non-routine geotechnical, earthquake and water resource engineering.
In a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday, Mr. Pyke says a new look needs to be given the once-rejected Western Delta Intakes Concept instead of plunging ahead with a massive twin tunnel or peripheral canal project, which could cost billions of dollars to build, more billions to finance and a billion a year or so to operate – all leading to higher water rates.
Mr. Brown is expected to announce his support for the tunnel or canal plan on July 25.
Mr. Pyke suggests it may be time to revisit and revise an earlier, rejected, idea: extracting irrigation system water on the west side of the Delta at Sherman Island.
He says this could mean that natural flows through the Delta could be restored “to the maximum practical extent and much more water should be extracted at periods of high flow and much less, or zero, water … extracted at periods of low flows.”
“An important feature of extracting surplus water at Sherman Island is that the system would be self-regulating. Although I propose that these facilities be built and operated by a JPA [joint powers authority] composed of Delta counties and Water Districts, this JPA would finance the project by negotiating long-term supply contracts with the existing CVP [Central Valley Project] and SWP [State Water Project] contactors. In addition to paying the debt on construction costs and covering the operating costs of the project, the JPA would also fund continuing ecosystem restoration or other local activities as it sees fit,” Mr. Pyke writes.
He says the Bay Delta Conservation Plan’s peripheral canal or twin tunnel scheme cannot be supported by the economics and would largely devolve into merely shipping higher quality water to the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles.
“[T]he BDCP is basically about water quality. Improved export water quality, which can be obtained by grabbing surplus water before it goes through the Delta rather than afterwards, is of real value to both urban and agricultural contractors, but, according to separate economic benefit studies by Dr. Jeffrey Michael and Dr. David Sunding, the water quality benefits obtained by this grab are worth at best a quarter of the expected cost,” Mr. Pyke writes.
He says Mr. Brown should avoid making a hasty decision based on bad advice.
“I am a professional engineer rather than a politician, but even if I do not fully understand California politics, it seems to me that you are not getting the best possible advice on this important issue and I would urge you seek input from a wider circle of advisors so that you can make a decision about the BDCP based on facts rather than misinformation,” Mr. Pyke concludes.
Comments on this story
Mike Wade 7/17/12 10:28 AM
It is not surprising that Pyke urges action on the proposed Western Delta Intakes Concept, which is a proposal that he authored years ago. Legislative sponsored by Assemblyman Bill Berryhill that would require consideration of this proposal was held in the Assembly Appropriation Committee on May 25, thus killing it from moving forward to the Assembly floor. Many organizations and committees have looked at Pyke's proposal but it has not gained the traction to move forward in water circles. Pyke also ignores the near universally held belief that the status-quo cannot be sustained in the Delta. Everyone with an interest in water supply, ecosystem health or flood control realizes that we can plan for change or accept the consequences of failure.
Pyke's statement that the "BDCP is basically about water quality" needs clarification. BDCP is responsible for developing the environmental documentation, which includes habitat improvements that could lead to improved conveyance. Water users have experienced an up-and-down water supply in recent years caused by environmental regulations and drought. In conjunction with the efforts of the Delta Stewardship Council, a reliable water supply and an improved Delta ecosystem are the goals to lead toward a secure California water future.
California Farm Water Coalition
Osha Meserve 7/21/12 4:26 PM
It is interesting that the Ca Farm Water Coalition comment contains no actual facts or analysis refuting the idea that Mr. Pyke's Western Delta Intake Concept is worthy of careful consideration. Moreover, the claim that BDCP "includes habitat improvements that could lead to improved conveyance" is nonsensical. Habitat projects have nothing to do with conveyance, which is a euphemism for the two 33-foot in diameter tunnels running 40 miles south to the existing pumping facilities. To the extent possible benefits to species from habitat projects is claimed, that linkage has been identified as weak by the National Academy of Sciences and others. That's part of why the project is still as far as we know, unpermittable under current laws. Last, neither the BDCP or any project can change the fact that California has drought conditions on a regular basis. Our best bet is to plan for those times through conservation, additional storage and better managing groundwater. Big tunnels will not ensure a reliable water supply over the long term.