Another View: Delta tunnels would not harm Sacramento water users

Published: Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014 - 12:00 am

In 1972, Sacramento County and I filed the original lawsuit against the East Bay Municipal Utility District to prevent the diversion of water into the Folsom South Canal upstream of Sacramento. Such a diversion would have harmed the lower American River. That lawsuit eventually forced EBMUD to build the Freeport diversion plant and divert the water from the Sacramento River instead.

But my good friend Assemblyman Roger Dickinson is wrong in drawing a parallel between EBMUD’s proposed diversion of water from the American River and the diversion of water from the southern Delta by the state and federal water projects (“Region needs bigger voice in Delta tunnel plan,” Viewpoints, Dec. 11).

In the American River, upstream diversions would have harmed fish and recreation. But in the case of the Delta, existing water diversions from the south Delta cause fish problems by diverting and killing fish from dead-end channels. Moving the diversion point upstream to the Sacramento River would allow river flows to safely carry young fish past the fish screens at the new intake. A new diversion point is strongly supported by independent and university biologists and state and federal fish agencies.

Another concern is whether Sacramento County water users might somehow be harmed by a new diversion point on the Sacramento River south of the city of Sacramento. There are two responses to this concern.

The proposed new diversion is downstream of the water intakes for the city of Sacramento and Sacramento County water users. Physically, there would be no way for the new diversion (the intake to the tunnels) to take any water needed by Sacramento water users.

Layers of institutional guarantees ensure that none of Sacramento’s water could ever be diverted by the state and federal water projects. Sacramento has very secure water rights, which long predate those of the state and federal water projects. State “area of origin” water laws protect the rights of counties upstream of the Delta to use the water they need before any can be exported.

Some have expressed a concern that placing the new diversion just downstream of the discharge of the Sacramento regional wastewater facility could result in requirements for higher wastewater-treatment standards. But Sacramento already has agreed to greatly improve the level of treatment of its wastewater due to water quality and biological concerns in the Sacramento River, so no new, higher levels of treatment should be required.

The state and federal endangered species acts provide assurances to those who seek to live within its limits by adopting a habitat conservation plan. The city and county of Sacramento have sought those assurances by adopting the South Sacramento County and Natomas Habitat Conservation plans.

Through the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, the state and federal water project operators seek the same assurances and offer the same commitment to contribute to the recovery of threatened and endangered species.


Jerry Meral recently retired as deputy secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, in charge of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. He is now director of the California Water Program at the Natural Heritage Institute.

Read more articles by Jerry Meral



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