FAIRFIELD — Various Solano County agencies are preparing to wade into the state’s new Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta draft environmental impact report – all 30,000-plus pages of it.
They have until April 14, 2014, to submit comments on the state’s proposed plan to solve long-standing Delta water supply and environmental problems. Local concerns range from loss of farmland because of tidal wetlands restoration projects to possible higher salt levels in Suisun Marsh waters.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Solano County Supervisor Skip Thomson said. “It sounds like a long response time or comment period, 120 days, but a document of this size, it’s a challenge to deal with the different impacts.”
The 738,000-acre Delta is a hub for the state and federal water projects. Water from the Delta gets pumped into canals and shipped to about 25 million Californians and to Central Valley farms.
But the Delta, with its rivers, sloughs and islands, is also home to rare species such as the Delta smelt that are protected by the Endangered Species Act. Rare fish have hampered water pumping from the Delta under various court cases.
Finally, the Delta is home to farms, recreational businesses and small communities, all of which could be affected by the state’s plans. About 86,000 acres – 134 square miles – of eastern Solano County north of Rio Vista are in the Delta.
Gov. Jerry Brown proposes to build twin 35-mile-long tunnels to take water underneath the Delta and avoid rare fish issues. The estimated $24 billion project would require large amounts of tidal wetlands to be restored to comply with environmental laws.
Solano County, the Solano County Water Agency, the Suisun Resource Conservation District, local cities and various reclamation districts will be looking at the documents. They have formed the Delta Coordination Working Group so they can share information.
“We think we have all the bases covered with all these different interests looking in detail at the different parts of it,” Solano County Water Agency General Manager David Okita said.
Plus, the water agency isn’t looking at 30,000 pages from a standing start. Okita said officials have gone through previous drafts of the document.
For the water agency, concerns center on Barker Slough in rural eastern Solano County near Highway 113. This is the location of pumps for the state’s North Bay Aqueduct that brings Delta water to Fairfield, Vacaville, Benicia, Vallejo and Napa.
State plans call for creating new tidal wetlands in the area that could affect water quality at Barker Slough. Also, the tidal wetlands could bring more rare fish to the area, which could restrict pumping.
In addition, revamped state Delta water operations could raise bromide levels in Barker Slough. That in turn could make the water more expensive to treat.
“What we have to do is basically negotiate mitigations for those impacts,” Okita said.
Solano County government has its own set of concerns about the Delta plan. It sees another possible drawback from tidal wetlands restoration in the eastern county.
“We’re going to lose a lot of our ag land if this project moves forward,” Thomson said. “Aside from losing ag land, we’re going to lose the property taxes that go along with ag land being in private production.”
Thomson’s 5th district includes the county’s Delta areas. Thomson represents the county on the Delta Protection Commission.
The Suisun Resource Conservation District represents property owners, mostly duck clubs, in 115,000-acre Suisun Marsh. The marsh is home to the state’s Grizzly Island and Joice Island wildlife preserves and is a major stop for waterfowl on the Pacific Flyway.
District Executive Director Steven Chappell joked about the daunting task of wading through 30,000 pages of often technical language.
“We will be commenting on it,” Chappell said. “I have yet to have the courage to open the document and look at it.”
One issue he’ll focus on is water quality in the marsh, Chappell said.
The marsh has brackish water – a mix of fresh water draining from inland and salt water pushing up from the ocean. A large increase in salinity would affect the habitat of the marsh.
The draft study predicts that substantial electrical conductivity increases in some parts the marsh during parts of the year could have an adverse effect on existing fish and wildlife uses. Electrical conductivity and salinity are linked.
It remains to be seen whether or to what degree these potential adverse effects could be offset, the draft report said. The document offers no specifics, other than using the salinity control gates that presently operate on Montezuma Slough.
“Salinity is one of the major environmental factors,” Chappell said. “It could be very significant.”
Even without the $24 billion project, the western Delta that includes eastern Solano County and Suisun Marsh could get saltier in coming decades, the draft environmental study said. It cites sea level rise as a factor.
The document also states that annual Delta outflow is expected to decrease with the project, relative to a no-action alternative. The result would be increased sea water intrusion in the western Delta, the draft study says.
Increased releases of fresh water from reservoirs into the Delta during the fall of wet years could freshen the western Delta, it said.
Go to http://baydeltaconservationplan.com/Home.aspx to see the draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan environmental impact report.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.