html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Oooh, yeah baby. Like that - ooooh.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Oooh, yeah baby. Like that - ooooh.

Right now, water from the American and Feather Rivers feed into the Sacramento, which exits to the Pacific Ocean through the Bay-Delta. The Bay-Delta used to be a continuous salt-marsh estuary, with variable salinity contours throughout the year. (There are historical stories of saltwater all the way up to Stockton in severe droughts and sweetwater out to the Farallon Islands in extreme floods.) Growers "reclaimed" the Delta by creating levees, often no more than dirt bulldozed into a pile to exclude brackish water. Those levees now surround privately owned Delta islands; all the water from the Sacramento River travels through sloughs between those islands. There is farming, real pretty asparagus and pears, on those Delta islands and a couple towns.

Freshwater from the Sacramento enters the Delta from the north and is pulled by giant pumps south to the Harvey Banks pumping plant, near Tracy California. My friend Sean and I once showed up there uninvited, and my badge was enough to get us a long tour from the bored operators. They have thirteen giant pumps there, that provide the first lift that sends water south to Bakersfield. At Bakersfield, the Edmonston pumping plant sends LA's water 2,000 feet up over the Tehachapis. I've heard that Edmonston uses about a third of the energy of the state of California, although they get a lot of that back coming down the other side. The operators at the Harvey Banks pumping plant did tell me that only a few of their pumps are running at one time, and they work closely with the California electrical grid operators. Power surge on the grid? They get a pump going to buffer that and convert it into moved water. Threat of brown outs? They shut down a couple pumps.

There is a ton of discussion about the Delta right now. Fish populations in the Delta have crashed and no one knows why. It is not unreasonable to think that the pumps are a big factor, sucking in baby fish or the microorganisms the fish eat. Or maybe fish in the Delta didn't evolve to live in constant freshwater. The center of the islands are sinking; the former marsh soils are peat, which oxidizes and blows away when it isn't saturated with water. The interior of the islands are now twenty feet or so below the water level in the sloughs. A levee break would create a giant (hundreds of acres) bowl of fresh and salt water, drawing saltwater into the Delta from the Pacific. LA's source of freshwater would be cut off. So fish are crashing and the levees are unstable.

The obvious solution to that is to allow significant housing development in the Delta. No, just kidding. Hahhahhah. Obscure water jokes are funny. To me. One solution is the Peripheral Canal - a canal that takes water upstream of the Delta and moves it directly to the pumping plant in the south Delta. The Peripheral Canal was proposed and defeated at the ballot in the early 80's and no one has wanted to talk about it since. Northern Californians tend to be opposed, thinking that without the physical constraints imposed by running water through Delta sloughs, nothing could stop LA from sucking Northern California dry. Delta growers are opposed to the Peripheral Canal, because they think that if we don't have to keep the Delta intact to provide water to LA, no one will care if it returns to saltmarsh. No one trusts LA to say how much water can move safely through the Delta, or environmentalists to diagnose the cause of the fish collapse, or local growers to maintain levees, or Valley farmers to use only what they need and treat the drainage, or Northern Californians to not be dirtyhippies.

With the Delta in near collapse, talk of a Peripheral Canal has returned. I think it deserves a serious look, especially a new version which would use the bed of the San Joaquin River for some length of the canal. When I asked my supersmart boss about the Peripheral Canal, he said the objections are a governance problem; the design and construction wouldn't be harder than any other big infrastructure. But Northern California and in-Delta growers believe that with the capacity to move more water, nothing could stop Southern California from taking it. So the Peripheral Canal is a governance problem, and through-Delta conveyance is a huge technical problem AND a governance problem. Maybe we should trade up.

13 Comments:

Anonymous sasha said...

On that topic, let me recommend the discussion of the Reber Plan at Sparkletack.
Yes, you have to slog through a podcast, but he's good, and the plan was spectacular (in the spectacle way, not the very good way).

5:49 PM  
Anonymous Mitch said...

Ah yes, drown your sorrows in, er, water.

10:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Los Angeles gets water from that far north? I never would have imagined - that must be a world record for most-distant water source.

Peter
Iron Rails & Iron Weights

7:20 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

That was hot.

And very interesting. Especially about the pumping of water as a potential storage for the electrical grid.

8:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This state is one big governance problem.

10:14 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

THANK GOD we have lots and lots of bureaucrats to work on that big governance problem.

10:28 AM  
Blogger ScottM said...

Any idea what effect year round salinity would have in the Delta? Loss of farmland, change of fish species, more?

10:31 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

ScottM:
The Delta would be brackish, with way more fluctuating salinity. That would definitely threaten farmland, mostly because the Delta growers have a pump on the water side of the levee for irrigation water. They would lose that supply if it were brackish.

A brackish Delta would likely favor indigenous species over non-native species. So those populations might shift, against some species that people do like fishing for. It will be very expensive to do a gentle transition. An abrupt transition is very likely to happen on its own and also be very expensive.

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More development in the Delta?! hee hee hee! Clearly the answer. :) Thanks for the sarcasm, you caught me by surprise.
-Mel

12:23 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Glad you liked it, sugar. I very often feel like my jokes are only entertaining me.

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's what Lathrop and Stewart Tract are for...to satisfy Delta developer cravings.

2:21 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Oooh, I was wondering who would come here and reference specific Delta Islands, but I looked it up and now I know.

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why "now?" That is, why is the fish population in the delta crashing now, rather than, say three years ago, or ten or 20?

I remember a few years back (that would be more than ten) visiting the dam in Oroville, and talking with a fellow there. He told me they would generate power by releasing water in the daytime, and pump it *back* up out of the Thermalito afterbay into the reservoir at night. Apparently the valuable electricity generated in the daytime makes it worthwhile to use cheaper electricity to pump water back into the reservoir at night.

A4

8:59 PM  

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