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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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UsualSuspect: Posted: January 21, 2014 7:52 p.m.

Would the "Cleaner Water" mean we would not have to filter it? I doubt it, and my guess is they want us to approve either Bonds, or a tax increase to pay for it. When will folks learn eventually you have to learn how to spend only what you bring in, and taxing and borrowing your way around will eventually leave you with no one left to pay for it.

castaicjack: Posted: January 22, 2014 10:03 p.m.

Hey, ya gotta have the developers supported for 20,000 homes off the 126 and 20,000 more next to Gorman and all you have to do is pay on the bonds and taxes to provide for it...

Rocketeer: Posted: January 22, 2014 11:37 p.m.

The cost of this plan is currently budgeted at $24.7 BILLION. This is for 60 miles of underground water tunnel. That makes this AS EXPENSIVE AS THE RAILWAY TUNNEL UNDER THE ENGLISH CHANNEL! This is a more ridiculous boondoggle than Moonbeam's "high speed rail to nowhere."

If the infrastructure needs improving then use the same low-cost aquaduct pipeline technology we use everywhere else. And if some spotted whooping cranes die in the process then chalk it up to Darwinian evolution and move on.

We are just too broke to afford any more hippie environmental nonsense.

ricketzz: Posted: January 22, 2014 5:45 a.m.

I am with Rocketeer; why a tunnel? Why not just use "off the rack" pipe or canals, etc., whenever possible? Is there a scientific advantage to a tunnel? (Note: spoiled views don't count). Dig out Mulholland's blueprints (if he used any).

cj64: Posted: January 22, 2014 6:32 a.m.

We hace har earthquakes for many years without an interruption in the water supply. This construction will not provide any security in making the water system earthquake resistant. It is just a money grab.

The tunnels do not provide any NEW sources of water, There is no snowpack in the mountains of northern California that provide us water. The current water we get, as Mr Erlewine states, is mixed with the salty California Delta water. That water exceeds the scam limit placed on us, so we must pay hundreds in new taxes to fix it for new development.

There may be some nature wackos that feel the beavers are being threatened by the current system and we should spend $25 Billion.,_California_beavers

castaicjack: Posted: January 22, 2014 7:07 a.m.

The presentation for selling this thing to the public is the standard "keep it simple, keep it stupid" approach that advertizers on TV have used for decades. In this case, it's "CLEANER WATER"! Who wouldn't be against cleaner water? The motive, however, is to supply water to more development along the 126(20,000+ homes) and Centennial City(20,000+ homes) and 1,045+homes in Castaic. This whole thing is about out of control mega development. It has nothing to do with bringing us "cleaner water"...

balld13: Posted: January 22, 2014 9:21 a.m.

Erlewine forgot to throw in the "it's for the children" selling point.

bartman: Posted: January 22, 2014 5:30 p.m.

Tunneling through bedrock actually does make some sense to me, but how would they line the tunnel? If they don't line it the mineral impact to the water is not going to help anyone. The other issue is in a major earthquake how do you fix it and restore service.

The other question is...Is this a Levee problem or a system problem? Seems to me that they need to put in a back up plan.

BobT: Posted: January 24, 2014 6:11 p.m.

The truth is that nothing about the Delta Tunnels plan has to do anything with getting better or cleaner water to our area. It is about big business and getting water to the almond growers. It is hard to believe that on some issues we are so concerned about our natural environment, and when big business gets involved, they come up with a big dog and pony show to manipulate people.
Our reservoirs are pretty full while they have drained Folsom Lake. I know personally that the levees are being maintained vigorously, are in good condition, and important to the environment in the Delta Region. The Tunnels would have a detrimental impact on the eco-system.

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