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Water officials bring Bay Delta Plan message to SCV

Valley Industry Association hears how state plans to modernize its water delivery infrastructure

Posted: January 21, 2014 6:34 p.m.
Updated: January 21, 2014 6:33 p.m.

Terry Erlewine, general manager for the State Water Contractors, describes the details for a huge water pipeline as part of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan as he speaks at the VIA luncheon meeting held at the Valencia Country Club on Tuesday. Signal photo by Dan Watson.

A lunchroom full of Santa Clarita Valley movers and shakers heard why their fragile water-delivery system across the San Joaquin Delta is in need of urgent repair and that the best way to fix it is with the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

On Tuesday, the man who heads a coalition of agencies contracting with the state to receive water from Northern California updated members of the Valley Industry Association of Santa Clarita on the future of water delivery.

Terry Erlewine, general manager for the State Water Contractors, explained with the help of pie graphs and numbers how the state plans to modernize its water delivery infrastructure.

“The challenge for water conveyance is that while two-thirds of the water supply occurs north of Sacramento, two-thirds of the water needs occur south of Sacramento,” he said in opening.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is about halfway between Sacramento and San Francisco, where the Sacramento River from the north — which provides most of the water supply — meets the San Joaquin River from the south.

The area, before development, had tens of thousands of acres of pure marshland in pristine areas. But that started disappearing more than one hundred years ago as agriculture development occurred.

Then the Delta’s levee system began crumbling.

“You have these large — what were previously, historically, islands — surrounded by levees built up around them,” Erlewine said. “The soil on those islands is made of peat which is decomposed marsh material that can oxidize and go away. Over the last 100 years of irrigation that has oxidized to the extent that in many cases 10 to 20 to 30 feet of water surface has declined, so that the ground has dropped by 20 to 30 feet.

“What you have now are these big bowls in the delta, manned below sea level and surrounded by very high levees that can and have failed easily,” he said.

How easily can the Delta levees fail?

Erlewine told the story of how a beaver destroyed an island in the Delta.

“About 10 years ago they apparently had a beaver burrow a hole that resulted in one of the larger islands flooding in the Delta,” he said.

Then he compared the destruction of one beaver to the destruction caused by a major earthquake.

“The major risk to water supply is a major earthquake,” he said. “If that happens, the levees would fail, probably in multiple places, and that would cause sea water to rush into the levees so that, within hours, would result in a water supply suddenly unavailable because it would be too salty to pump.

“This is the perfect storm that our engineers stay awake at night worrying about,” he said.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan calls for two 30-mile underground tunnels to bypass the Delta and ensure stable water delivery. The tunnels would have the capacity to move 9,000 cubic feet of water per second. Construction is expected to begin in 2017.

The tunnels would bypass the levees where salt water mixes with fresh and where the threat of failure due to earthquake or flooding is highest.

The project, if approved and built, would offer the added benefit of delivering cleaner water to Southern California.

The plan and its accompanying environmental impact report are available for public review through April and can be found at


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