Flood plan would pile tons of rocks at Brannan Island park

06/19/2013 12:00 AM

07/15/2013 3:53 PM

California water officials are moving to store large piles of rock and sand in key locations throughout the Delta, including Brannan Island state park, as part of a broader effort to improve flood response.

The California Department of Water Resources was directed by 2008 legislation to stockpile "flood fight" materials at strategic points in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. This includes large rocks up to 2 feet in diameter, known as riprap, and the conveyor belts and cranes necessary to move it.

The department recently completed an environmental study on the project and decided on three locations: Brannan Island State Recreation Area, along Highway 160 and the Sacramento River; a construction lot north of Rio Vista along the Sacramento River; and a former industrial site in Stockton, along Stockton's ship channel near Interstate 5.

In the event of a flood, the rock and sand would be transported by barge and used to bolster weakened levees. The goal is to have sufficient materials on hand to respond rapidly.

"The objective of our program is to protect the lives, property and infrastructure that's critical to the functioning of both the Delta and California," said John Paasch, the project manager at DWR.

Developing the sites would cost an estimated $29 million, to be funded by Proposition 1E, a flood control measure approved by voters in 2006.

The sites in Rio Vista and Stockton are already used by DWR for materials storage. They would be expanded and improved.

The Brannan Island site, by contrast, is the only full-service state park in the Delta. The idea of storing an estimated 40,000 tons of giant rocks in a popular recreation area worries some residents.

"I think dumping millions of tons of rock on Brannan Island would not be a good thing just for the looks," said Bill Wells, executive director of the California Delta Chambers and Visitor's Bureau. "Brannan Island is like the No. 1 public park in the whole Delta."

The project also calls for building a 10,000-square-foot warehouse to hold other emergency materials, stationing conveyor belt systems and cranes to move rocks and sand, and driving pilings along the shore of Three Mile Slough to moor barges.

Most of this development would occur on the southern tip of Brannan Island, in an overflow parking area adjacent to the park's Cottonwood Campground.

The proposal states that during flood emergencies, the park's boat launching ramp, the largest in the Delta, could also be used to load barges, host administrative trailers and serve as a helicopter landing pad.

The environmental study acknowledges the material piles could pose an aesthetic problem for park visitors, and would be visible to travelers on Highway 160. DWR plans to shield the piles from view either with vegetation, a dirt berm or burying them to form an earthen mound.

It also plans to assist the California Department of Parks and Recreation with other improvements to Brannan Island. This may include a new visitor's center and operations building, improved restrooms and perhaps new fishing docks, Paasch said.

He said Brannan Island was chosen because it is one of the few islands in the Delta that sits above sea level.

State Parks officials are open to the concept and will press their needs during negotiations over an agreement that must be signed before the project can proceed, said Matt Green, district superintendent for the parks agency.

Brannan Island was one of 70 state parks slated for closure last year due to budget cuts. That fate was avoided when the state signed an agreement with a private concessionaire to run the park.

"Normally we may have concerns about providing that type of activity on a state park," Green said. "But one thing we were encouraged about is their willingness to help us remedy any issues that might be associated with the work, and the potential partnership with them to enhance the recreational experience at the park."

DWR is taking public comment through July 8. Once site selection is finalized, it intends to begin development this summer, a process that could take two years.

HOW TO COMMENT: Comments on the project can be submitted to John Paasch, Department of Water Resources, 3310 El Camino Ave., Suite 200, Sacramento, 95821; or via email to john.paasch@water.ca.gov.

The plan can be found online at: http://ht.ly/m33SX.

Contact The Bee's Matt Weiser at (916) 321-1264. Follow him on Twitter @matt_weiser.

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