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Officials hope water diversion plan not just pipe dream

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Posted: Thursday, January 25, 2001 10:00 pm

A proposal to pull water from the Sacramento River might help replenish the depleted groundwater basin in eastern San Joaquin County — groundwater on which many homes and businesses rely.

Sacramento County, the East Bay Municipal Utility District and others have begun to make preliminary plans to divert water from the Sacramento River at Freeport, sending it to the Folsom South Canal and bringing it to the Mokelumne Aqueduct, where a treatment and pumping plant would be built. Ultimately, much of the water would be sent to cities in the East Bay.

But if the water is already headed into San Joaquin County, why can’t a plan be established to help refill the county’s 115,000-acre underground reservoir during wet years?

That question is what Ed Steffani, manager of the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District and officials throughout the county are asking.

That message got through this week with Sacramento County, East Bay MUD and the others formally inviting San Joaquin County to develop a proposal to replenish its water supply.

It is a desperate situation for San Joaquin County, Steffani said. Demand for underground water has simply exceeded supply, he said.

Costs to extract water from below ground continue to increase because the it needs to be pumped from lower and lower depths, Steffani said.

The depth needed to extract water varies from 150 to 200 feet east of Stockton to 30 to 40 feet on the western side of the city.

The water table problem is nothing new. It’s been on the decline for nearly 100 years.

Salt water has come into water-holding deposits from the west and is destroying the basin.

Allowing San Joaquin County to benefit from the current preliminary plans might not be a huge cost to the county, Steffani said.

Millions of dollars may be available from state and federal sources, he said.

The funds would be needed to enlarge pipes so more water could be delivered, replenishing the groundwater basin.

The basin would need 220,000 acre-feet per year to correct its current overdraft, Steffani said.

If the plan goes forward, wet-year water would be taken from the pipeline and diverted into the basin.

Steffani knows that won’t always be enough so San Joaquin County will look to divert water from the Mokelumne, Calaveras and Stanislaus rivers and Little John’s Creek as well.

The county is working to establish a joint powers agency of Stockton, Lodi, San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, Woodbridge Irrigation District, North San Joaquin Water Conservation District, Stockton East Water District and Central San Joaquin Water District officials to partner with East Bay MUD, Sacramento and Sacramento County on the arrangement. Steffani said that agency needs to be established by March 31.

A more detailed plan including a financial feasibility study to divert some of the water to replenish the San Joaquin groundwater basin would be due July 31. That’s the same time frame that Sacramento County, Sacramento, East Bay MUD and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation have to develop specifics as well.

The plan has been pursued by Sacramento County, Sacramento and East Bay MUD because attempts to divert water from the Nimbus Dam on the American River has been unsuccessful for more than 30 years. East Bay MUD owns the rights at the dam.

“If we can do this project we’ll walk away from the American River forever,” said Charles Hardy, East Bay MUD spokesman.

But seeing the proposed pipeline come about might be easier said than done.

It’s hard to come together as a regional interest, Hardy said.

Hardy said he has heard from a San Joaquin County water official that there is a lot of division on what is wanted to replenish the water supply.

Tom Gau is hoping that won’t be a big issue. The county’s deputy director of public works hopes that in forming the joint powers authority the county would be unified, speaking with “one voice.”

With or without San Joaquin County, the project is slated for completion by Sept. 30, 2005.

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