Delta Wetlands Only Surface Water Storage Project Viable in Next Decade
Marking the close of an exhaustive 15-year environmental review process, proponents of the Delta Wetlands Project, a critical water management tool for California, announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approved the final federal permits required for the project.
"Today's announcement is a critical milestone for the Delta Wetlands Project and its proponents who have worked tirelessly and patiently for the past 15 years to make this day a reality," said Jim Easton, general manager of the Delta Wetlands Project. "Delta Wetlands is now the only new surface water storage project able to be built in California within the next decade."
Completion of this permitting process, which affirms the environmental soundness and technical viability of the project, includes compliance with all applicable State and federal environmental laws. In February 2001, the State Water Resources Control Board granted Delta Wetlands its water right permits, entitling the project to capture and release surplus Delta flows, and certified its environmental documentation, confirming that the project will not adversely impact local wildlife or other natural resources or disrupt the Delta system. In addition, a California Superior Court recently issued a ruling ratifying all State-related environmental documentation submitted during the approval process as well as the water right permits.
The federal permits (404 and Section 10) are the last step in a comprehensive federal and State approval process, and allow project development to proceed after basic local permits are issued. Once construction commences, it is estimated that the project can be fully operational within 2 to 3 years.
With available water supplies declining due to environmental regulations and steadily increasing demands, California faces a looming water crisis. Business, agricultural and labor groups have placed a high priority on building additional storage capacity as a critical component of ensuring the state's continued economic vitality. The California Chamber of Commerce recently stated "Reliable water supply ... is near the top of the list of factors companies evaluate when formulating their long-range business plans." Project supporters hailed this project milestone as an important step towards ensuring safe, reliable water supplies for future generations of Californians.
The Delta Wetlands Project is now poised to become the water project state business and labor leaders are calling for, providing desperately needed new storage and a new water supply. The project, which is designed to capture surplus Delta water (water that has historically flowed to the Pacific Ocean), ultimately will store approximately 220,000 acre-feet of water and supply approximately 170,000 acre-feet of water per year, in an environmentally sensitive, technically sound and cost-efficient manner.
Located in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and straddling both San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties, the project will involve four Delta islands. Two islands will be developed to serve as reservoir islands and two islands will be permanently set aside as managed wetlands and wildlife habitat, which also will incorporate an ongoing and significant level of agricultural production. After years of farming and grading, the islands' land elevation is now well below sea level. By fortifying surrounding levee systems, the project proponents will be able to store significant amounts of water on the reservoir islands, forming a new surface water storage facility. The reservoir islands will be able to capture water when it is available (typically during storms or wet years), for later use when water is scarce. Ideally located within the vast Delta network, one of California's primary water supply sources, the project is compatible with and could provide greater operational flexibility to existing water infrastructure and systems.
This 15-year environmental review process has incorporated extensive public involvement and comprehensive technical analysis to ensure the feasibility, safety and environmental sensitivity of storing water on the reservoir islands. The project will comply with and even exceed all State and federal water quality standards. In addition to independent scientific reviews, public oversight boards will be established and all monitoring data will be made available to the public to ensure the effectiveness of protections for local residents.
Beyond a potential purchase by the CALFED Bay-Delta Program, and in light of evolving California policies and regulations, many other opportunities for project implementation exist. Recognizing the large supply of new water that the Delta Wetlands Project will provide, potential partnerships could include urban or agricultural water agencies, environmental mitigation efforts, large developers and other business entities.
For more information on the Delta Wetlands Project, please visit its web site at www.deltawetlands.com.