Driving north from Lodi toward Sacramento on Interstate 5, motorists may wonder what the behemoth plant looming over the Sacramento River in the shadow of a steel water tower is.
It's a plan for the future of California's water, and it may help ease the burden on parched groundwater basins in San Joaquin County.
Diesel trucks rumble as they idle, while bulldozers and steamrollers reconfigure the landscape at the intake station of the Freeport Regional Water Project in Sacramento. The intake building is the combined effort of East Bay Municipal Utilities District and the Sacramento County Water Agency. It is scheduled to be finished in March or April 2010.
The massive project will divert Sacramento River water to a pipeline and canal system, and into San Joaquin County and into East Bay's pipeline to the Bay Area.
The pumping center, located on what is known as the Freeport Bend of the Sacramento River, is the perfect spot for the location, said Mike Goldberg, EBMUD engineer.
"The land was here and the river was here," Goldberg said. "You don't find many multi-acre parcels next to the river."
The intake plant takes advantage of the curve of the river in order to maximize its efficiency. Locating the complex on the outer edge of a bend employs the natural motion of the river, Goldberg said.
Inside, eight pumps are used to power the intake plant. Goldberg said all eight would never be running at the same time, but that each one is capable of pumping 25 million gallons of water a day. Each 2,000 horsepower pump is more than two stories tall.
The intake plant's maximum capability is 185 million gallons a day.
That much water is bound to have some sediment in it. Below the intake center is system that separates solids from the water and keeps fish out.
It's known as the chain and flight system. It sits submerged in the Sacramento River after water has been pulled in through fish screens. Goldberg said fish bigger than a millimeter and a half will not get sucked into the pumps.
The chain and flight system extends lengthwise through the bottom of the complex. It's cool and dark like any wine cellar you would find in Lodi. However, it features a constant humming due to the mechanized pumps and various moving parts.
There are metal bars attached to a chain and a pulley system. The chain slowly operates as the metal bars scrape across the bottom of the ground to collect sediment. The silt eventually makes its way to sediment basins outside, more than a football field away.
Goldberg said the construction of the intake plant has taken more than 400,000 hours and no one has been seriously injured during the build.
The complex requires 14,000 horsepower to operate. Hydroelectric power is not used. It runs on standard electricity.
"That's a large electric bill," Goldberg said.
At the top level of the building is a vast series of motors that control the operation. The complex will essentially operate automatically, but Goldberg said people would still be needed for monitoring.
The intake building is just a part of an ambitious project between the East Bay and Sacramento utilities. The $1 billion project is intended to protect residents from droughts.
In dry years, water will be sent to aqueducts in San Joaquin County before being transferred to customers in the East Bay.
Dry years are estimated to be three out of every 10 years.
Charles Hardy, senior public affairs representative for EBMUD, said it's possible the company wouldn't even need to use the water for its customers that often.
"Before two or three years ago, we hadn't had a dry year in more than a decade," Hardy said. "We won't even take the water if it stays wet."
The East Bay will only be allowed to access the water during dry years. Hardy said that if the municipal's supply dipped below 500,000 acre-feet in a given year, it would qualify as a dry year.
Hardy added that the project as a whole can help with water storage.
"If people use it wisely," he said, "they can get a benefit from it."
The Freeport Project will enable residents in Sacramento and the East Bay to have reliable access to water, but residents in San Joaquin County can benefit in the future as well.
Hardy said the Freeport Project creates an infrastructure for San Joaquin County projects in the future. He said that while no deals are in place, the pipes and intake plant would make water available for groundwater recharge or other county interests.
"The piping system is in place to facilitate moving water around," he said. "It's a step forward."
The intake plant connects to a series of four pipelines, which have been under construction for the last two years. From Freeport, the pipes run underground for 17 miles and eventually split into two individual lines. One would supply customers in the East Bay and the other will serve Sacramento residents.
The pipelines that connect to the intake are basically complete, Goldberg said.
Even though the Easy Bay will be able to extract water during the next dry period, Sacramento will not be able to use any of the water until the Vineyard Surface Water Treatment Plant is completed in 2011.