Stronger Delta levees not the entire answer, says engineer

November 12, 2012 9:00pm
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•  More needs to be done to restore estuary says Robert Pyke

•  “It undercuts the earthquake bogey”

Just strengthening the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta levees to withstand future earthquakes will not ensure the state’s water supplies -- or restore the estuary, says Robert Pyke, a Walnut Creek-based consulting engineer who has offered plans to counter the Delta’s deteriorating condition.

“More robust levees alone will not straighten out the unnatural flow regime in the Delta and return it to being a true estuary rather than a weedy lake, and will not get the State through a six-year drought,” says Mr. Pyke, who is a critic of the state’s plans to divert fresh water from the Sacramento River before it enters the Delta.

In a 12-page letter to California Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin, a copy of which was provided to CVBT, Mr. Pyke says the controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which is supposed to answer the question of how to restore the Delta while enhancing water supplies to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California, will not improve water supply reliability in a drought because it does not contain plans for additional water storage.

If the BDCP were to go forward, it could see construction of giant twin tunnels beneath the Delta to shunt water from the Sacramento River to the pumps of the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project for use by customers south of the Delta. While there has been no cost-benefit study of the plan, pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown, some estimates have put the cost at over $50 billion.

Mr. Cowin has been pushing for support for the BDCP in newspaper op-ed columns, saying in one, “It improves water supply reliability for much of the state and restores the region's threatened fish species, while enhancing the cultural, agricultural and recreational values of the Delta.”

Mr. Pyke suggests this is disingenuous spin.

“Just tell me this: if the Bay Delta Conservation Plan really does all these wonderful things, why have the extremely well-paid consultants so far been unable to come up with an effects analysis that works?” he writes in his letter to Mr. Cowin. “And how exactly does the Bay Delta Conservation Plan enhance the cultural, agricultural and recreational values of the Delta? What are all the Delta folks who oppose the Bay Delta Conservation Plan missing?”

He says the recent support shown by Mr. Cowin’s department for strengthening levees to withstand earthquakes “undercuts the argument that the Governor and others have been making that the twin tunnels of the BDCP are needed because of the likelihood of widespread levee failures in some imaginary earthquake.

“It undercuts the earthquake bogey,” Mr. Pyke says.

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Comments on this story

Farmwater 11/13/12 11:50 AM
DWR Director Mark Cowin wrote as recently as last week in the San Jose Mercuy News that "California has invested to keep key sections of Delta levees strong -- $300 million since 2005 -- and will continue to do so. But to rely solely on levees to safeguard a water supply critical to the state's nearly $2 trillion economy would be negligent." To suggest that this position "undercuts" the BDCP process is a misinterpretation. The BDCP's efforts have been guided by the two goals established by the Legislature in 2009---establish a reliable water supply and a restored Delta ecosystem. These efforts continue toward a final plan that will benefit all of California. Mike Wade California Farm Water Coalition

Chris Gulick 11/13/12 5:54 PM
DWR Director Mark Cowin wrote as recently as last week in the San Jose Mercuy News that "At a cost of $14 billion, this would not be cheap.But customers of the water districts that depend on Delta water would pay for it, not general taxpayers." This is another example of the disingenuous spin being offered by Director Cowin. 14 billion quickly becomes 50 billion when no one is paying attention. "general taxpayers" will indeed be paying for a substantial portion of the actual costs involved including the costs of mitigating for the damages that will surely occur if this pipe dream is built. Absent a cost/benefit analysis and straight answers from those we have placed in authority how are ratepayers and taxpayers expected to reach reasoned conclusions ? Perhaps some hope we won't.

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