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June 23, 2021

Another View: Maybe Calif. should look west for water

The constant talk about building a peripheral canal to bypass
the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta west of Stockton has
infuriated many, especially those living proximate to the
Delta.
The constant talk about building a peripheral canal to bypass the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta west of Stockton has infuriated many, especially those living proximate to the Delta.

A canal such as the one envisioned by the governor and others could cost as much as $50 billion and still not create one additional drop of water for the state’s growing population.

What if there was another way, no less difficult or costly than the struggle over preserving the Delta while ensuring a reliable supply of water to California’s millions?

The East Bay Municipal Water District, which today brings Sierra Nevada water to the East Bay through a complex system of pipes (including a huge buried pipe that parallels March Lane in Stockton), is working on its comprehensive 2040 water plan.

It, too, is controversial, none more so than the proposal to raise the level of Pardee Dam to create more water storage but flooding forever more of the canyons of the Mokelumne River that feeds the reservoir.

EBMUD also is working on an array of other programs, including conservation and recycling, to assure a reliable water supply 30 years from now.

Among those EBMUD projects is a desalination plant, an expensive way to get water – but as the technology develops, the price is expected to drop – that is being considered by the water district working with the Contra Costa Water District, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the Santa Clara Valley Water District. Statewide, about 20 desalination projects are planned or under way.

What would happen if California, rather than just channeling more northstate water south, thought outside the ditch and challenged itself to the research and development of large-scale desalination projects? The $50 billion that a canal could cost would go a long way toward such an endeavor.

It’s not like desalination hasn’t been tried or isn’t being used. The U.S. Navy does it aboard its ships. On land there are some 7,500 desalination plants operating worldwide, most of them in the parched Middle East. In May, the San Diego County Water Authority approved construction of a $300 million facility, which will produce 50 million gallons of drinking water daily, enough for 110,000 households.

Desalination carries its own environmental problems, namely the harm to marine life from intake pipes that suck water into desalination plants and from the concentrated brine by-product that gets discharged back into the ocean.

And it’s not cheap. With the current technology, it costs a lot to provide water this way. But shouldn’t the value of a limited resource – and that’s what water is – be reflected in its price?

There is no way to know if this can be done, especially on the scale it would have to be for the state. But we do know there is no way California will forever be able to supply the needs of the entire state by continuing to just move water from one area to another.

There are about 33 million Californians and growing.

We have to find other sources of water. Perhaps the long-term solution is to be found by looking west rather than always looking north and east.

This editorial first appeared in the Stockton Record.

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