Yolo County News

Woodland-Davis water project replaces century-old river intake

A century-old water intake on the Sacramento River in Yolo County is making way for a new facility designed to protect threatened and endangered fish species even as it diverts millions of gallons for the cities of Davis and Woodland.

Construction began on the $44 million joint intake and fish screen project in late June to replace what is now the largest unscreened intake on the Sacramento River north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

A joint effort between Woodland’s Reclamation District 2035 and the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency, the intake will pull in 400 cubic feet per second of water from the Sacramento River. That’s enough water, officials said, to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool in less than four minutes.

The project is considered a critical piece of the $228 million surface water project to supply water to Woodland and Davis and is expected to be completed in 2016. It will also serve agricultural customers of RD 2035.

“The ability to get water out of the river through a joint intake is historic in an agriculture-urban partnership,” said Bill Marble, Woodland mayor and agency chairman. “The fact that we’re partnering with agricultural interests is a unique thing. It’s good for the environment and ag interests economically.”

Scientists and conservationists are most interested in how the fish screens will protect species of threatened and endangered fish, including green sturgeon that swim and spawn in the waterway. About 3,300 pipes divert water from the Sacramento River along the Sacramento-San Joaquin watershed basin for agricultural uses, according to researchers at UC Davis. Nearly all of the pipes are unscreened, injuring or killing fish drawn into the pipes.

“There is the potential that endangered species could be sucked into the pumps,” said Regina Cherovsky, the reclamation district’s general manager. Perforated metal fish screens protect fish from being injured as they pass by the intake and “won’t allow entrapment of fish species,” Cherovsky said.

UC Davis researchers in a January study found that a group of threatened juvenile green sturgeon that live in the Pacific Ocean and spawn only in the Sacramento too often die in unscreened diversion pipes and intakes like the one RD 2035 plans to replace.

The sturgeon are not the only species in harm’s way, Cherovsky said. Steelhead, salmon and trout are also imperiled.

The project east of Woodland and north of Interstate 5 is expected to generate as many as 3,600 jobs, from construction to engineering to manufacturing, Cherovsky said. The reinforced concrete structure will rise 46 feet from the river bottom and will be 200 feet long, Cherovsky said.

The $44 million project is funded by federal Bureau of Reclamation grants and state bond money, as well as a local contribution from Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency.

“It’s an exciting project. It’s something that 2035 has been working on for years,” Cherovsky said.

Once completed, the intake will draw water to irrigate 15,000 acres of Conaway Ranch land and be piped to a water treatment facility on Woodland’s outskirts for the journey to Davis and Woodland as part of the surface water project. Large pumps inside the screens will pressurize water, thus enabling it to travel by pipeline to the plant.

The joint surface water project will supply 30 million gallons a day of treated river water to the two cities – 18 million to Woodland, 12 million gallons to Davis – to supplement the cities’ groundwater. That’s enough, officials say, to serve two-thirds the urban population of Yolo County. UC Davis recently signed on to receive a share of Davis’ allotment.

Both cities today draw their water exclusively from below ground and face state and federal clean water deadlines as they confront poor groundwater quality and an aging network of wells.

Crippling drought has exacerbated the issue, especially in Woodland where groundwater levels are “the lowest we’ve ever seen,” said principal utilities civil engineer Tim Busch. Levels today are a full 69 feet below sea level – more than 20 feet below the previous low of 48 feet below sea level in historically dry 1977 and twice as low as the city’s 30-year average of 34 feet below sea level, Busch said.

In Davis, city leaders have proposed new rates to pay for the city’s share of the surface water project after voters rejected a previous plan that opponents said unfairly burdened homeowners. The new plan charges customers a base rate and an amount tied to usage each month, without factoring in summer use like the previous structure.

If adopted, the new rates will go into effect Nov. 1 and increase each January starting in 2016 through January 2019.

Informational mailers are going to property owners under a state-mandated process that gives residents the opportunity to file a written protest. The first of three community meetings on the project and proposed rate hikes is 7 p.m. Thursday at Patwin Elementary School. Other meetings are scheduled for Sept. 4 and Sept. 8 at different locations. A public hearing on the city’s rate increase proposal will be held Sept. 16.