NAPA — A three-year drought has brought up the issues of temporary salinity barriers going up in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Lake Berryessa reservoir water possibly going to Napa County in case of a water shortage emergency there.
Solano County supervisors and mayors met Tuesday with their counterparts from Napa County to discuss water issues. They met as the boards of the Solano County Water Agency and the Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District.
Both counties get water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta through the State Water Project’s North Bay Aqueduct. The North Bay Aqueduct pumps are in Barker Slough near Highway 113 in rural eastern Solano County between Dixon and Rio Vista.
The Department of Water Resources plans to put up rock barriers at three locations in the Delta to keep salt water from intruding into the central Delta because of the drought. One barrier is to be placed along Steamboat Slough, which is an eastern boundary of Solano County. The Delta is a major source of fresh drinking water for much of the state.
“Nobody wants to see the Delta become a salty sea,” Solano County Water Agency General Manager David Okita said, adding it might take years until fresh water flows flush the salt out.
But barriers could make water quality saltier in Barker Slough and at the North Bay Aqueduct pumps. They could make water saltier in sloughs that eastern Solano County farmers use to get water for crops. They would make Delta boating more difficult, with boats having to be hoisted over the temporary barriers.
Solano County Supervisor Skip Thomson had attended a meeting in Walnut Grove that morning on the barriers. He said he couldn’t get in the room because the meeting was so crowded.
“I see this process as one that will be very complicated, very divisive and very heated,” Thomson said at the Napa meeting.
Laura Moon, chief deputy director of the state Department of Water Resources, said the state could install the barriers in April and have them operational in May. She said the state would talk with local officials as it moves ahead.
“There may be issues in your area we need to work through,” Moon said.
Solano County Supervisor John Vasquez, looking at his computer, found outdated information on the barriers posted on the Department of Water Resources website. If the department wants to be transparent, it should update its website, he said.
Whether the barriers make Barker Slough water too salty to be used for the North Bay Aqueduct might be a moot point. Because of the drought, the state may make no water allocations available at the aqueduct this summer in the first place.
Okita said Solano County cities could use Lake Berryessa reservoir water to handle such a situation. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reservoir is almost 70 percent full.
But Napa County doesn’t have this flexibility. Though Lake Berryessa is in Napa County, its water goes almost solely to Solano County farms and cities.
That had Napa County officials wondering if, during an emergency, their county could get Lake Berryessa water.
It would be difficult, Okita said. For one thing, new pipe would have to be put in to get Lake Berryessa water to such locations as American Canyon, which Okita said would be particularly hurt by a North Bay Aqueduct shutdown. But it is something that could be undertaken in an emergency, he said.
“We are taking your situation very seriously,” Okita told the Napa County officials.
Moon said the state is beyond a critically dry year. There might be one more storm this rainy season next week and that might be it until the fall.
“The tough times are still really ahead of us,” Moon said.
Another issue of mutual concern for the two counties is the proposed alternate intake project for the North Bay Aqueduct. Local water officials say the Barker Slough location faces water quality problems from organic materials even during years without drought. Also, state plans to restore tidal wetlands in that area could attract more rare fish to Barker Slough, possibly leading to pumping restrictions.
The proposed solution is to build North Bay Aqueduct pumps on the Sacramento River near West Sacramento. The project, which includes building the pipes to transport the water to local water treatment plants, would cost an estimated $550 million.
Mayors and supervisors from both counties talked about working together for their common water interests.
Solano County Supervisor Jim Spering said there’s a divide-and-conquer approach in water issues. The two counties can’t let that happen. If they don’t work together, they might be victims, he said.
Tuesday marked the first time the Solano and Napa water agency boards had a joint meeting, Okita said.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.