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Gov. Brown: Let’s have ice cream and discuss water

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Posted: Thursday, March 7, 2013 12:00 am

Dear Jerry: It must be hard being the governor of California. Everyone wants something from you.

I, on the other hand, just want to buy you an ice cream at my "northern office" located inside the Velvet Grill in Galt. I also need to introduce you to a buddy of mine, Dr. Robert Pyke, the civil engineer that created the alternative Western Delta Intakes Concept. If you never read my column "The single most important man in California," you really should.

With multiple special interest groups, overpaid consultants and entrenched bureaucrats running around, no wonder the California water crisis has yet to be solved. Between us, the current Bay Delta Conservation Plan — more infamously known as the "Delta twin underground tunnels" — would be a man-made disaster of epic proportions.

Yet any time any constructive criticism of the BDCP arises, blind supporters often regurgitate "years of study have gone into this plan to achieve a reliable water supply and a restored Delta ecosystem, blah, blah, blah." While the "years of study" part is true, unfortunately your current plan will totally fail to deliver.

Why? Dr. Pyke has identified two simple principles that the BDCP violates:

1. Allow natural flows to pass through the Delta before any surplus is extracted for export.

2. Extract more water during high flows and less or no water during low flows.

Variations of the tunnel plans that fail to adhere to these two principles will result in Northern California suffering environmental and economic damage of unprecedented proportions, without providing Southern California with any additional long-term solutions.

On the other hand, Dr. Pyke's alternative WDIC makes great sense. Here's why:

Self-regulation: I have never met even one farmer who believes the state can regulate anything fairly. Have you, Jerry? The WDIC is purposely engineered to be self-regulating, as opposed to needing complicated agreements that surely will lead to future litigation between various competing interests. Any designs to pump more water than the Delta can safely provide will result in brackish salt water being delivered. AWESOME.

Cost: The WDIC is a whole lot cheaper. Dr. Pyke suggests extracting water though permeable embankments on Sherman Island, as opposed to somewhere farther north on the Sacramento River. Tunnels to the existing South Delta pumps would then be less than half the length of the BDCP tunnels. Obviously, the cost of construction will be significantly less.

Furthermore, Sherman Island is currently mostly owned by the state. Unlike the BDCP, the WDIC does not require billions be spent in acquiring thousands of acres of land through painful eminent domain procedures, nor will thousands of acres of currently productive agricultural land need to be converted into ill-defined habitat.

More fish: The best strategy is not to kill fish in the first place. Embarrassingly, it took a world-renowned civil engineer from Australia to figure this one out.

More water for Southern California: The WDIC creates water storage to be banked during wet years, and drawn from during dry years. On the other hand, the BDCP does not create one single drop of water.

(Wow, I can read your mind, Jerry. Right now you are thinking about whom in your cabinet should be fed to the alligators. I can offer you some gentler alternatives when we meet.)

Earthquake protection: Great news, we are not all about to die!

The only up-to-date and independent study of the present condition of the Delta levee system was developed by the Delta Protection Commission and peer-reviewed by a panel appointed by the Delta Science Program. This study found that today's Delta levee system is in reasonably good shape, although more needs to be done to assure its long-term integrity under the threat of extreme floods, earthquakes and possible sea-level rise.

The cost of these further improvements is estimated to be in the order of $2 to 4 billion, a fraction of the cost of the BDCP. This is a much more cost-effective investment because it provides multiple benefits, including water supply reliability, protection of life and property, and the protection of critical infrastructure.

Relief from Endangered Species Act restrictions: The real reason that exporters support the twin tunnels is that they want to escape from arbitrary restrictions on pumping from the South Delta caused by the take of listed species.

Too bad their plan will fail.

Significant quantities of water would still be sucked across the Delta to the South Delta pumps, and the massive intakes on the Sacramento River are problematic with regard to some species of salmon. The best way to escape from the arbitrary restrictions on pumping is simply to take no fish.

The WDIC would achieve this by drawing water into Sherman Island through 10-mile long permeable embankments, which would constitute the world's largest and finest fish screens that not even juvenile Delta smelt could penetrate.

Jerry, as you know, in 1963 construction began on the Gov. Edmund G. Brown California Aqueduct. As the son of a Lodi grape grower, I too have a legacy I want to build upon.

So in 2013, let's have that ice cream in Galt — but let's also have a serious talk about how we can finally solve California's water crisis without drowning us all.

Frank Gayaldo, Jr. can be reached at frank@gayaldointernational.com.

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