delta plan, 6/27/13

People fish in the Montezuma Slough as the sun sets, Thursday evening. The state's $24 billion plan plan for the Delta could effect the Suisun Marsh in a variety of ways. (Brad Zweerink/Daily Republic)

Solano County

State Delta plan could affect drinking water, Suisun Marsh

By From page A1 | June 30, 2013

FAIRFIELD — California’s $24 billion plan to build two 35-mile tunnels for Delta water exports could hit home in Solano County, from making Suisun Marsh saltier to making local drinking water more costly to treat.

For that matter, though it’s a long shot, Solano County could even be home to the tunnels. One of three possible routes goes through the eastern county near Rio Vista and covers a section of Ryer Island farmland with muck pits.

California has released 20,000 pages of what it calls a “preliminary draft” Bay Delta Conservation Plan. Several local officials said they have yet to read through this massive output – itself one of many state Delta documents – though they are monitoring the state’s Delta plans in general.

“If we mess this up, I think we’ve changed the Delta for centuries to come,” Solano County Supervisor Skip Thomson said. “We have to be right on if we’re moving forward with anything.”

The Sacramento San Joaquin Delta covers 738,000 acres – more than 1,000 square miles – including 86,000 acres in eastern Solano County. It’s a vast network of sloughs and waterways fed by the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers with Sierra Nevada runoff.

In its natural state, the Delta was a vast holding area for fresh water waiting its turn to squeeze through the Carquinez Strait into San Pablo and San Francisco bays and through the Golden Gate out to sea. Today, California pumps out much of this water to irrigate Central Valley farms and provide drinking water for 25 million residents.

But allowing water to flow through the Delta and then pumping it out from the south Delta near Tracy has caused environmental problems. The pumps suck up and kill rare fish and alter natural water flows. Court decisions have limited water exports to help save the fish, causing consternation among Central California agricultural water users and Southern California municipal water users.

Those twin tunnels are the backbone of the proposed solution backed by the Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration. The state proposes to pump water out of the Sacramento River before it enters the Delta and ship it under the Delta in two, 40-foot diameter tunnels.

Another Bay Delta Conservation Plan component is to restore thousands of acres of tidal wetlands in an attempt to help the rare Delta smelt and other endangered fish.

Any big water plan these days requires a big environmental impact report. Those 20,000 pages of the “preliminary draft” Bay Delta Conservation Plan are to ultimately serve that purpose. The plan looks at three possible water conveyance routes and variables such as amount of water exported, for a total of 15 alternatives.

Solano County officials are trying to figure out what the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and its proposal to reshape the Delta means for Solano County residents.

Solano County alignment

Building the water conveyance facilities on the western side of the Delta would make it pass through part of eastern Solano County.

That’s not the state’s first choice. California wants to build the twin tunnels miles away from Solano County. But the western alignment remains among the Bay Delta Conservation Plan alternatives.

“There hasn’t been much evaluation of that alternative, because no one is really taking that alternative seriously,” Solano County Water Agency General Manager David Okita said. “They are really looking at the main tunnels down the middle of the Delta.”

Thomson had a similar reaction. He too hasn’t heard any serious discussion of the western option, he said.

State environmental laws dictate that the study must look at a wide range of alternatives, Okita said. Both Okita and Thomson said they believe that is what’s going on with the western alignment option.

It may end up being a mere planning exercise, but the western Delta alignment through eastern Solano County still gets hundreds of pages devoted to it in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

Ryer Island would see the biggest effects in Solano County under the western route. The island has corn, wheat, alfalfa, grapes and other crops, with levees holding back the waters of Steamboat and Miner sloughs. It is north of Rio Vista and can be reached using the Real McCoy II ferry.

The state’s water conveyance facility would be a canal as it crosses Ryer Island. It would become two 33-foot-diameter tunnels on the southern island and continue for 17 miles to Hotchkiss Tract near Oakley in Contra Costa County.

A section of Ryer Island would be used to store what the study calls “muck” dug out to create space for the twin tunnels. Tunnel muck is to be less than 25 feet in depth and have dikes around it. Ultimately, the muck could be used for levees or covered with top soil and seeded.

Building the western alignment would cause obstructions in local Delta waterways for up to five years that in some cases would delay recreational boaters. Barges used in construction would at times be in their way.

For example, a barge facility would be built along the Sacramento River about a half-mile east of Cache Slough. Peak boat traffic is high there, in part because Rio Vista and its two boat launches and marina are two miles downstream, the study said.

One way to compensate for these effects on Delta recreation is to contribute money to local Delta recreation projects, the study said. It proposes establishing a new state park at Barker Slough in eastern Solano County.

NorthBay Aqueduct water quality

Building the twin tunnels miles from Solano County along the state’s preferred mid-Delta route could also cause ripple effects in Solano County. Those anticipated changes are documented in the preliminary draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

Fairfield and Vacaville are among the local cities that get a portion of their drinking water from the Delta. They use the state’s North Bay Aqueduct system that pumps water out of Barker Slough near Highway 113 in eastern Solano County and takes it to the North Bay Regional Water Treatment Plant near Peabody Road.

One possible change with the twin tunnel system is higher bromide levels at Barker Slough. Bromide levels could increase 40 percent to 98 percent during drought. That could necessitate “considerable water treatment plant upgrades” to meet state and federal water standards, the study said.

“It’s a big concern,” Okita said.

Bromide is associated with salinity from sea water. It reacts with chemicals during the water disinfection process to form brominated trihalomethanes, which studies have linked to tumors and other health problems.

“If you throw enough money at it, you can treat it,” Okita.

The Solano County Water Agency would prefer to move the North Bay Aqueduct pumps far away from Barker Slough, to the Sacramento River near Sacramento. That would get the pumps away from the Delta and  problems beyond bromide, among them poor water quality due to organic materials. The cost could be $400 million to $500 million.

The draft preliminary study said Bay Delta Conservation Plan proponents could help pay the costs associated with the North Bay Aqueduct relocation. Other options mentioned are finding alternative water sources for the area and paying for increased treatment costs for the present North Bay Aqueduct site at Barker Slough.

These “proponents” as described in the study are the state Department of Water Resources and various public water agencies, including the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Westlands Water District in the Central San Joaquin Valley and Santa Clara Valley Water District.

Okita said the Solano County Water Agency would want a binding agreement upfront to deal with the potential bromide problem. The agency has been asking the state to pay half of the North Bay Aqueduct relocation costs.

“We’re going to start talking to the BDCP and the contractors about this right away,” Okita said. “There is time to negotiate something. I’m sure others like the Contra Costa Water District and maybe Stockton will be doing the same thing.”

A saltier Suisun Marsh

Suisun Marsh is about 180 square miles of sloughs, marshes and upland hills south of Suisun City. It is home to duck clubs and state wildlife preserves and is the largest contiguous estuarine marsh in the United States.

Water is the lifeblood of the marsh. Marsh sloughs have a brackish mixture of fresh water draining from the Delta and salt water pushing up from the ocean.

The mixture could be saltier in the late fall and winter under the proposed twin tunnel water export regimen, according to the preliminary draft study. Modeling shows salinity levels could double, though salinity changes would not be uniform throughout the marsh, it said.

Some studies show the marsh in its historic state had greater salinity swings than today. That’s because less fresh water ran down the Delta during the late fall after the dry weather of summer, allowing more sea water to intrude. Today’s massive reservoirs upstream of the Delta didn’t exist to manipulate water flows.

But Steve Chappell, executive director of the Suisun Resource Conservation District, said the flip side of this is the marsh historically saw much greater influxes of fresh water in the spring. Those upstream reservoirs didn’t exist to capture large portions of this runoff for exports to cities and farms.

“My fear is the average salinity in the marsh will end up being higher because we’ll never see the (spring) freshening occurring as quickly as it did historically or for the same duration,” Chappell said.

The preliminary draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan sees little problem with a saltier marsh in the late fall and winter. The Western pond turtle wouldn’t like the saltier water in marsh sloughs, but during the winter could be in adjacent uplands or ditches with lower salinity levels, it said.

With planned tidal wetlands habitat restoration in the marsh, such species as the rare salt marsh harvest mouse and California clapper rail should do well, the draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan said.

Chappell said that, as salinity goes up, most wetlands become less productive and diverse.

Local officials have only begun to look at the 20,000 pages of the preliminary draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan. They have only begun to sort out what the effects might be for Solano County, for good or for bad.

They have time. The release of the draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan – as opposed to the preliminary draft – is scheduled for Oct. 1. It is to be followed by workshops and public hearings.

Then comes one of the biggest “ifs” of all – whether the twin tunnels project will ever get built.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.

Sacramento San Joaquin Delta

  • Size: The Delta as legally defined by California is 738,000 acres, or 1,150 square miles. The primary zone is about 550,000 acres. The remaining 238,000 acres is a secondary buffer zone.
  • Location: Portions within Solano, Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Yolo counties.
  • Solano County portion: 86,000 acres.
  • Water use: Serves 25 million Californians and state’s $27 billion agricultural economy.
  • Wildlife species: 52 mammals, 22 reptiles and amphibians, 225 birds and 54 fish.

Source: Delta Protection Commission

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling has been a reporter with the Daily Republic since 1987. He covers Solano County government, transportation, growth and the environment. He received his bachelors of art degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley.

Discussion | 23 comments

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  • S KJune 30, 2013 - 8:21 am

    Well it was back in the 80s, that the voters told Twinkle Toes Governor Brown to take his jacks and go home, after defeating his peripheral canal. Maybe it is time the PEOPLE hands him another wake up call, and reminds him about WHAT WE WANTED. Is it too late to get another proposition on Nov's ballot??? Wait another proposition that another court may shoot down, nullifying the will of the voters (Remember Prop 8 ???>>LOL). Heck I am actually considering doing what my Son has always done, NEVER VOTE AGAIN, since it doesn't make a HILL OF BEANS difference!!!

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  • Rick WoodJune 30, 2013 - 10:49 am

    SK: Keep voting. It's only in federal court that you need be concerned about standing. And even there, all you have to do is show you have or will suffer some harm from whatever you are opposing and you will have standing.

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  • Mr. PracticalJune 30, 2013 - 1:52 pm

    SK, I'm with you regarding Brown but Prop 8 was a bad example. Even you can put an unconstitutional initiative on the California ballot if you get enough signatures and pay the fee.

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  • Bill G.June 30, 2013 - 8:33 am

    This conveyance system/peripheral canal must be stopped. We, the voters shot this very same thing down the last time Mr. Brown was our governor. Proposition 9, also known as the Peripheral Canal Act, was on the June 8, 1982 ballot in California. Voters rejected it then. The final vote was 62.7% against, 37.3% for. It was soundly defeated. Now Mr. Brown wants to push this same stupid idea through without our vote. The delta is in bad shape already due to the influx of salt water from the bay. I recently caught a flounder, a salt water fish, while fishing in Rio Vista. All species of aquatic life are on the decline in the delta because of the salinity of the water. Not striped bass as some southern California farmers would like you to believe. Some farmers in the delta can’t irrigate due to the salinity of the water. The pumps that exist now near Tracy are the reason for the decline. They should be shut down as well. I am offended that this governor thinks that we are all stupid enough to believe that if we remove the water before it reaches the delta no harm will be done. He wants to pump almost twice as much water south than is currently being pumped as well. All this water will go to very rich agribusiness companies. One of the biggest is owned by Stewart and Lynda Resnick, who were recently sued for illegally selling water, who by the way would be able to sell back to us any excess water that was not used to irrigate his citrus empire. If we want our grandchildren to enjoy the delta as God made it, this must be stopped!

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  • Rick WoodJune 30, 2013 - 10:56 am

    BG: Let's not go back to the Delta as God made it; we wouldn't like it. No, the Delta, for better or worse, is a human altered system for as long as we are here, and it's up to us to determine what we want it to be. "Benign neglect" is not benign, so we have to do something. In fact, the Delta plan will do more good than harm, but it's almost preposterously expensive. The beneficiaries of the water don't want to pay for the whole thing, so they are trying to figure out who else benefits and should pay. Once those questions are answered and all the costs are on the table and the payees are AT the table, the water users will decide if they are in or out. If they are out, it means some other plan will be needed to manage the Delta in a sustainable way, not that there can be no plan.

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  • Bill G.June 30, 2013 - 12:44 pm

    I'm guessing you must work for a water agency in some manner. You are so wrong when you state it's a good idea it makes me laugh. How can you take more fresh water away from that eco system and think it will be good. They want to pump massive amounts of water to a very arid area. Why destroy one area to create another. It's big agribusiness, which you sound like you're part of, that are hell bent on destroying the delta for the all mighty dollar. We will fight this tooth and nail. You mention "benign neglect". This has nothing to do with the condition of the delta. It's the idiots that keep wanting to pump water to the southern desert that have damaged it.

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  • Bill G.June 30, 2013 - 1:14 pm

    No, Mr. Wood, you are wrong. Pumping more water south to the southern desert so the extremely wealthy agribusiness companies can make more money will in fact do un-repairable damage to the delta. The pumps that are in Tracy have proved this. It was a bad idea when "we the people" voted it down the first time, and it's a bad idea now. We must do everything possible to stop this very stupid idea, including supporting all the lawsuits that are about to come in to effect. This must be stopped...

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  • Rick WoodJune 30, 2013 - 3:05 pm

    Pardon me if you are a hydrologist and I'm missing something, but pumping the same amount of water from Tracy through the Delta is different than pumping it from the Sacramento River at Courtland. It's that "through the Delta" part that's most damaging. Granted, if the amount of water pumped is increased due to the tunnels, the impacts will increase too, but all things being equal, the tunnels will IMPROVE conditions in the Delta most places, especially the central and south Delta.

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  • Fairfield ResidentJune 30, 2013 - 9:04 am

    Great article. There is so much natural beauty we have here that it is taken for granted. There is no way to go back and restore the damage this water diversion will create. Think of this as being similar to the mortgage loan debacle. There are a very few who become insanely rich and the rest of us who use water have to pay for the consequences. Make your voice heard. Write and call your elected representative to stop the diversion tunnels.

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  • S KJune 30, 2013 - 10:26 am

    Just another idea by Twinkle Toes Brown, his RE-HASHED idea, that the voters should again put the brakes to. Twinkle Toes has been messing up ever since he let Linda Ronstaht get away :-). Maybe someone with more ambition, less lazy than me, should collect all these comments and send them to him>>LOL

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  • Rick WoodJune 30, 2013 - 11:36 am

    Yes, Barry Eberling has been following these issues locally at the DR for many years. For my money, he's possibly the top environmental reporter in the state for local issues and one of the top for statewide issues. We're fortunate. I don't think the mortgage loan debacle comparison is apt. The Delta plan is more like this huge negotiation with all the information in the sunshine. The state knows we need to do something, and we have for years. The plan isn't bad; the problem is who should pay for it and who can pay for it. An unaffordable plan is simply an interesting academic exercise. We won't know if that's what we have or not for a while. The key for everybody is to avoid getting stuck with costs or impacts exceeding benefits. No one will get all they want, but should get enough of what they need, plus other compensation, to give the plan a "not opposed" vote. It's not for everybody to be in favor, just not opposed. It’s definitely not about a few big winners and a lot of small losers. And by "everybody" I mean everybody who is willing to negotiate. Those who make unreasonable demands and won't move off them will be put in a corner and ignored unless there are too many of them to ignore. That was the case in 1982, but it does not appear to be the case now. Be careful about putting yourself in that corner.

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  • Rick WoodJune 30, 2013 - 10:44 am

    The plan will have major effects on the Delta and NBA water quality. The issues are how these effects will be mitigated and who's going to pay for all of it. Once those issues are settled, the plan should proceed. But I'm not sure those issues can be settled, and if it turns out to be the "winners" trying to roll over the "losers," there will be permanent damage to the state. The Governor can't want that. So, we're going to see a lot of asking: "What can we give you to make you satisfied that your interests have been met?" THAT'S what the people of Solano County need to discuss. People who oppose the plan without having a rational reason (i.e., not based on some legitimate interest) will find themselves isolated and ignored.

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  • So Mr. Wood.....June 30, 2013 - 11:29 am

    If you would be so kind to answer, being an expert on such matters....Is any sludge from San Francisco or other place being put in the Delta or Suisun Marsh?....I believe I am correct in saying that it is put on farmland adjoining Rio Vista.

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  • Rick WoodJune 30, 2013 - 11:39 am

    I'm a city water guy, and that's more of a county land use question. But a good person to ask is Barry. Barry, are you reading this?

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  • Thank youJune 30, 2013 - 11:53 am

    Also interesting would be...If the tunnels are built how are they going to do it?....With the same tunneling tech (the bore type machines) that were used to build the English Chunnel? What is the total distance we are talking about?....What about Earth Quakes? Also as an aside....No one ever talks about the pollution of the Ocean and how killing off the microscopic plant life of the Ocean, is affecting the climate.....True is it not that the largest percent of the Planet is covered by the Oceans, so this would actually (along with the amount of solar radiation coming from the sun, which we have no control over) have the most impact on any supposed climate change(not green house gases as we are told).

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  • Rick WoodJune 30, 2013 - 3:15 pm

    TY: I'd have to look it up, which, thanks to Google, so can you! But it's miles and I imagine the technology is similar because the tunnels will be like 30 feet in diameter.

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  • Bill G.June 30, 2013 - 1:35 pm

    "I'm a city water guy". I thought so. What do you stand to lose if this doesn't happen? I see firsthand how the farmers in the valley waste the water that is taken from the delta now. I grew up in Fairfield but now live in the San Joaquin Valley. It's really upsetting to see all the water running down a country road because they flood irrigate. They do this even though we’re in a drought. I bet if they had to meter their water use they wouldn’t do it. But alas, Resnick and other agribusiness companies fought it and won because they can throw vast amounts of money at the politicians. A few have drip irrigation systems and their fields look very healthy. They want to pump this water to grow citrus and cotton for the most part. Both take massive amounts of water. There need to be more regulations how the greedy southern farmers utilize the water they have now. Then again the all mighty dollar will see that that doesn’t happen any time soon. STOP THE CANEL!

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  • Rick WoodJune 30, 2013 - 3:22 pm

    BG: I'm not sure what you mean by "have to lose." At some point we all lose if the state can't come up with something that works and we can "not oppose." As for the ag runoff you are seeing, have you ever followed where that water goes? Some of it my be recaptured and sent through the system again. Some of it might be return flow to the river, which means it's not lost, just detoured for a bit. Generally non-consumptive conservation doesn't make a lot of sense where the unused water returns to the system. Now, if you were in Monterey and the runoff was going into the ocean, that would be different.

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  • Bill G.June 30, 2013 - 4:56 pm

    The only people that will lose if this isn't built are the southern farmers. They'll lose filling their pockets with more money. If it is built some of the people that will lose are the delta farmers because you can't irrigate with salt water, the people that have businesses in and around the delta, the people that rely on the delta for their drinking water, and people that just enjoy the delta for what it is today. It won't be the same if this happens. Please explain to me how taking the fresh water away before it even reaches the delta will be better. At least now it goes through. And it is not the same amount of water. It is significantly MORE. As far as the run off here in the valley. You are right. What doesn't evaporate, because it does get a bit warm out here, does go back. It runs through the fields, down the street, in to the Stanislaus, and what's left of the San Joaquin Rivers, straight to Tracy and the pumps and heads south full of pesticides. Its a complete waste of our water.

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  • Rick WoodJune 30, 2013 - 8:56 pm

    BG: OK, that’s a lot. Be patient. Here goes: Because our state economy depends so much on our management of water, I don’t think you can say the only losers if some Delta plan is not built would be rich “southern farmers.” I wish it were that simple. What will happen is the federal government will take over operating the state’s through-Delta water supply as part of enforcement of the Clean Water Act (salinity) and the Endangered Species Act (salmon, Delta smelt, et al.). The result of that is unpredictable, but would probably be bad for the state as a whole, very bad. If maintaining the “common pool” created by a fresh water Delta (unnatural, by the way) is so important to you you would wish for that, I’ll just say a LOT of people disagree with you, and you’re putting yourself in that corner I warned about. Diverting water from Courtland instead of Tracy means none of the inflow to the central or southern Delta would be compromised. That’s good for the central and southern Delta. In addition, reverse flows to the pumps would be eliminated. Reverse flows now result in damage to anadromous fish and create higher salinity in the southern and central Delta. There WOULD be negative impacts in the north Delta, and as a local, northern “city water guy,” I believe we need to be concerned about that. Those impacts need to be mitigated, and not by us but by the plan’s beneficiaries. If we insist on no plan because of those impacts, though, we will lose our ability bargain over that mitigation. We’ll be in that corner with you. As for “significantly MORE” water, probably not, if you mean by “significantly” an amount that will create unacceptable impacts. There IS more water in the system that can be safely exported during flood flows or times when pumping at Tracy creates unacceptable problems, but the plumbing doesn’t exist to divert it. The proposed plan solves that problem. But in that you have a point. The debate should be over how much of that water should be diverted vs. be left in the system. To divert it all means a very large tunnel for very short bursts of use. That’s not only expensive for the additional water, but creates the threat that the “bursts” will get longer over time as political demands trump environmental and local values. As for ag runoff, nonpoint pollution is a problem. But that’s a different problem than the volume of water used. Zero runoff doesn’t work; we know that from both science and history. A lot of rich land in the past has salted up due to inadequate runoff to carry the natural salts away. Whole cultures have died out because of that. We know better and should act accordingly. I don’t want to make rich farmers richer by paying for their impacts, but I am willing to subsidize the water use of all farmers if they meet certain conditions, including farming land that is the best land sustainably and that has been put in an ag conservation trust. I’m not interested in subsidizing ag water so the owner can get rich by urbanizing his land someday. That’s my view and I’ve not seen any reason to change it. But please go ahead and try.

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  • Rich GiddensJune 30, 2013 - 10:59 am

    Your State voted for the tyrant Brown, the tyrant Obama, the thug Garamendi all the rest of the communists and internationalists in the State Assembly. Why complain now? I'm laughing at you!

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  • I will put this here.......June 30, 2013 - 12:30 pm

    Shout out to Mr. Faison and the cute DR techies.....As far as following the posting of comments I do not like to be notified by email...I like to just go to the bottom of the page and click on commentary and look at the list of comments as they were posted Chronologically....OK so could you have all the comments listed in a 24 hour period for the previous two days, as a separate option and still keep the current comments, like two separate options? It would make it easier to catch up on things if we miss a Day of Exciting Commentary.

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  • Next DoorJune 30, 2013 - 4:46 pm

    the very people who would opose a walmart will support moon beams tunnles sad

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