Water solution for California: ‘Little Sip, Big Gulp’

Rep. John Garamendi
Rep. John Garamendi Courtesy of John Garamendi

Don’t be fooled. The dreaded twin tunnels through the heart of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta did not die. The governor’s new “California Water Fix” plan is the same destructive twin tunnel $17 billion boondoggle, just without the fig leaf cover of habitat restoration. Not one gallon of new water supply is created for our thirsty state.

California water needs can be met with a comprehensive program that over the next 10 years can create more than 5 million acre-feet of new water at a cost no greater than the twin tunnels. Here are the keys to our water future:

1. Conservation

2. Recycling/desalinization

3. Creation of new surface and aquifer storage

4. Science-driven process

5. Fixing the Delta – right-sized conveyance, levee improvements and habitat restoration

Go forward carefully; start small; use science to evaluate each step; then proceed to the next step. The Delta is a unique and precious environmental asset.

First, reduce demand on the Delta with water conservation, recycling and desalinization, and strategic use of surface and aquifer storage. Move forward with habitat improvements for the floodplain and fresh and saltwater marshes. Repair and improve the key Delta levees. Evaluate the effect on the Delta as these projects come online. Then, and only if necessary, proceed with a conveyance system that is much smaller and with a reduced capacity to destroy.

A much smaller facility with a capacity of no more than 3,000 cubic feet per second could be built to deliver water from the Sacramento River to the Tracy pumps. With the normal minimum flows in the Sacramento River above 15,000 cubic feet per second, a 3,000-cfs facility could operate at least 300 days in most years, delivering about 2 million acre feet of water to the pumps at Tracy and on south to new and expanded storage facilities.

Half of this Delta-friendly system is already built. Two miles from the state Capitol is the Port of Sacramento. A fish screen could be built at the existing opening on the Sacramento River, allowing 3,000 cubic feet per second of Sacramento River water to enter the deep water channel and flow 25 miles south to a shipping lock at the southern end of the channel. Then, pumps could deliver the water into a 12-mile pipe beneath the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and into a new aqueduct alongside the Old River channel that leads to the Tracy pumps.

An alternative route could take the water out at the southern end of the shipping channel, delivering it into an aqueduct around the town of Rio Vista, across the Sacramento River at Sherman Island and through Contra Costa County to the Tracy pumps. This route would intersect six vital San Francisco Bay aqueducts, thus creating a safety system for 8 million Bay residents.

The “Little Sip, Big Gulp” strategy completes the program to meet California’s future water needs.

In normal water years, there is sufficient water in the Delta to allow the pumps to take a “big gulp” of 2 million acre-feet of water. This amount together with the 2 million acre-feet delivered through the 3,000-cfs facility would meet the annual water demand south of the Delta.

The new water developed from surface and underground storage, conservation, and recycling and desalinization efforts could add up to 5 million acre-feet, and together with an eco-friendly Delta solution would be enough to serve the future needs of a thriving California.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, represents Northern California’s 3rd Congressional District. More information on his water plan is available at