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Assemblyman Berryhill offers canal alternative
Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, R-Ceres, is championing a Delta solution that could please all water interests at an economic cost significantly less than the latest proposal to resurrect the Peripheral Canal.

In its most basic form it involves:

• Building a bypass facility to divert San Joaquin River water past the pumps that ship water south via the California Aqueduct at Tracy.

• Building up and flooding state-owned Sherman Island on the western edge of the Delta to capture excess water. It would have the potential to store upwards of a million acre-feet of water for various purposes.

• A fish screen at Walnut Grove would separate Sacramento River fish from the water supply corridor that feeds the Tracy pumps.

• Dredging key channel that have been allowed to fill with sediment for as long as 60 years in some instances. This would improve water carrying capacity, improve fish conditions, and enhance flood protection.

Berryhill has been pushing to have the plan given a serious look in Sacramento. It has gotten out of committee twice only to languish and die in the Appropriations Committee. The study to determine its viability is expected to cost upwards of $1 million.

"It (the plan) has gotten more support this year," Berryhill said.

At the same time, Berryhill is preparing to introduce a bill that he hopes would give pause for those seeking to benefit from a peripheral canal or conveyance system - especially Los Angeles basin water users and South San Joaquin Valley farmers whose representatives are pushing for a canal option.

The bill, in a nutshell, would require that before any statute authorizing the construction of a peripheral canal can be approved the independent Legislative Analysts' Office would be required to compile an economic analysis.

That analysis would include:

- the total cost of the project including environmental review, planning design, construction and mitigation and how those costs would be covered.

- expected impacts of the project on taxpayers, water ratepayers, and the state's general fund.

- expected environmental and economic impacts of the project on existing public infrastructure in and around the Delta watershed.

Berryhill said a realistic working cost is needed so that a major and expensive surprise isn't sprung on taxpayers like it has been with high speed rail. Some have estimated that the water conveyed by such a canal could cost $800 to $1,000 an acre-foot.

That, Berryhill noted would mean significantly higher water bills for Los Angeles residents and make it financially infeasible for farmers to use exported water to produced crops.

Such a study by the Legislative Analyst's Office could cost between $500,000 and $1 million. Berryhill believes that even in tight budget times that would be money well spent to avoid putting in place an expensive canal.

"It won't do any good in a drought," Berryhill said of a canal. "If there is no water available it can't be sent south."

The assemblyman noted that there have been no studies on what would happen to Delta farming and tens of thousands of jobs if upwards of 500,000 acres are taken out of production either through increases salinity in the remaining water or deliberate flooding of them to essentially free up more water to send south.

The plan takes into account that water conditions - in terms of quality - are weaker on the San Joaquin River. It essentially avoids diluting the cleaner water from the Sacramento River which in turn requires less water volume to "flush" the Delta.

It would involve a series of flood gates and boat locks. Two divided channels near Clifton Court Forebay - one a mile long and the other 0.75 miles - would keep the San Joaquin and Sacramento River waters from co-mingling. Siphons under the Old River Channel before the forebay would allow the Sacramento water to continue into the state canal system and avoid mixing with San Joaquin River water. It would be designed to handle 15,000 cubic feet of water a second.

Treated wastewater discharges from Manteca, Stockton, Tracy, and Mountain House - a big sticking point with south state water users - would be conveyed in to the estuary without being pumped from the Delta as part of the Central Valley Project and Street Water Project exporters. It essentially avoids sending San Joaquin River watershed water south.

The proposal would mesh together solutions advance by water experts that include Russell T. Brown to address the two most ticklish elements of the never-ending Delta controversy - providing clean, adequate water supplies to Southern California, South San Joaquin Valley Farmers and the Bay Area and protecting fish flows and the environment.