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State might reshape Solano’s Delta country

Delta Waters Flyover with Joel Carey

The sun sets over Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta along Steamboat Slough near Snug Harbor on November 26. Solano County is at the hub of the state water wars as the delivery system that brings Delta water to 25 million Californians and Central Valley farms. (Conner Jay/Daily Republic)

By
From page A1 | December 23, 2012 |

RIO VISTA — Solano County is Delta country and at the hub of the state water wars, even though it may appear otherwise.

Most people experience the county from Interstate 80. Drivers see a blur of homes, businesses and stores as they pass through four cities, along with farmland and brushy hills. They see no sign of the Delta.

Go to the remote eastern part of the county or to the small city of Rio Vista, though, and the rivers, sloughs and sinking, peat-soil islands of the Delta are visible. There, farmers plow fields behind levees while boaters navigate waterways on the other side.

California wants to remake the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and the delivery system that brings Delta water to 25 million Californians and Central Valley farms. In the process, it could remake part of Solano County as well.

From the water local residents drink to the health of wildlife to the fate of farms to the availability of fishing and hunting and other recreational opportunities, the state’s big Delta project could have a local effect – for good or ill.

“There is tremendous opportunity and tremendous risk,” said state Sen. Lois Wolk, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Delta Stewardship and Sustainability.

While Solano County is Delta country, that fact can be hidden because it is so many other things as well. One of the more geographically diverse of California’s 58 counties, the county also contains part of San Pablo Bay, marshlands, oak-covered coastal hills and flat Central Valley farmland, so that no single habitat dominates.

About 86,000 acres of the county is within the legally defined Delta. That’s a small section of both the 581,000-acre county and of the 550,700-acre Delta.

Still, 86,000 acres is 134 square miles. Lindsay Slough, Cache Slough, Barker Slough, Hastings Cut and the Sacramento River all flow through or are totally within Solano County.

Jeanne McCormack knows that Solano County is Delta country. Her Montezuma Hills ranch gets water from the Sacramento River to irrigate 50 acres of grapes. She said she wonders what would happen if California’s water wars end with more fresh water being shipped south and more ocean water pushing up the river to the ranch.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown is trying to end the decades-old state water wars that seek to divide Delta water among the environment, farms and cities. Difficulties abound.

The rare Delta smelt has seen its populations plummet for reasons that are not fully clear. That has led to court decisions reducing water pumping from the Delta for Central Valley farms. Scientists are sounding alarms for the Delta ecosystem, itself already a highly modified system of sinking islands behind hundreds of miles of levees.

Brown and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced their favored strategy July 25. It includes building a new version of the old peripheral canal idea. In this case, twin tunnels would carry Sacramento River water under the Delta to state and federal water pumps.

“A healthy Delta ecosystem and a reliable water supply are profoundly important to California’s future,” Brown said in a press release. “This proposal balances the concerns of those who live and work in the Delta, those who rely on it for water and those who appreciate its beauty, fish, waterfowl and wildlife.”

Solano County officials are skeptical. Among the questions that the county has posed in various letters to the state Delta Stewardship Council:

  • What would happen to water availability and quality at North Bay Aqueduct pumps in eastern Solano County if massive habitat tidal wetlands restoration takes place in the region? The aqueduct provides water to Fairfield, Vacaville, Vallejo and Napa.
  • Would restoring tidal wetlands take large tracts of farmland out of production, hurting county property taxes and the farm economy?
  • Will Solano County end up being hurt to make other parts of the state better?

Solano County’s Delta country is within Supervisor Mike Reagan’s 5th district. Reagan, who will leave his office in January, has made working on Delta issues a county priority.

The potential effects of state and federal Delta plans extend to the future of the county’s economy and quality of life, Reagan said.

“It’s that important,” he said.

Solano County is Delta country. That makes Solano County a player in state water wars that are once again heating up.

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

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.
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  • Rick WoodDecember 23, 2012 - 4:01 am

    Excellent article. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. No reporter is better than Barry in providing a view of the Delta from a Fairfield/Solano perspective.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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