Climate Warming Brings New Water to California’s Delta

Ice GG

First ice berg test for fitting under the Golden Gate Bridge:Photo by Mustafa Dogan

April 1, 2019

By Nestle J. Frobish

The California Department of Water Resources is working to employ the ongoing break-up of the Antarctic ice cap to provide a vast supply of water for California.  Current plans are to employ ocean tugs to bring ice bergs into San Francisco Bay for docking in the State Water Project’s Clifton Court Forebay.  Several propulsion designs are being explored.

The resulting meltwater will provide a salt-free source of water in the south Delta for local and Delta export water users, cold water for Delta Smelt, and a summer winter-sports recreation activity in the southern Delta.  Satisfying the entire roughly 7 maf/year of total Delta export water demand will require roughly 8.6 billion tons of ice berg annually (9.2 cubic kilometers of ice).

“We decided that we needed a new source where we could be the senior appropriator, and use the water to help contribute cold environmental flows in a warmer climate.  In this case, as soon as the ice drops off the Antarctic coast, it is ours to divert,” said Russell Berg of DWR.

“The operating costs are high, but this drought-proof source will mean we don’t need expensive new Delta conveyance,” said Bob Apple of the Southern California’s Metropolitan Water Authority.  Other savings also are likely.  “With this immense new water source, we can stop studying cloud seeding, desalination, and fog capture,” said a spokesman for LBL.

Environmental experts are particularly excited about adding cold water to the Delta.  “Before this solution, we haven’t had a way of keeping parts of the Delta cool enough for Delta Smelt with a warmer climate,” said Allison Ick of UC Davis.  As an adaptation to climate change, rising sea levels will allow deeper ice bergs to be brought through the Golden Gate and into the Delta.

ReSnore the Delta, a formerly-sleepy local environmental group, has raised concerns about the impacts of deepening Delta channels to allow the bergs to be brought into the Delta.   However, the Byron Chamber of Commerce welcomes the prospect of summer-time winter sports for the local economy.  “The southern Delta will be a place for winter sports in the summertime. We already sell ice, bait, and beer for bass fishermen.  Renting ice-axes, crampons, and skates for winter sports will bring additional summer business,” said spokeswoman Bethany Brentwood.

Restore Hetch Hetchy expressed enthusiasm for the idea as a substitute form of cold water storage for the people of San Francisco.  “SFPUC can park pure glacier water at Pier 39, and no longer need Hetch Hetchy reservoir,” said a spokesperson.

Titanic Cruise Lines has raised safety concerns that transporting ice bergs to San Francisco Bay might bring hazards to navigation.

ICE-MAR corporation, the world’s largest cultivator of ice fields, also working to bring smaller ice bergs to just outside of Bakersfield for aquifer recharge.  “Infiltrating another couple of cubic kilometers of ice could end groundwater overdraft in the San Joaquin Valley, and be quite an attraction during our hot summer,” said a company spokesperson.

In the nearer term, calving bergs from glaciers in nearer-by Alaska and British Columbia could be used, although ice bergs being shed at growing rate from Antarctica are seen as a more sustainable supply.

Water from the ice bergs would return to the ocean as Delta outflow, urban wastewater, and precipitation from agricultural evapotranspiration, and so would be unavailable for combatting sea level rise.  “More research is needed,” said Jay Lund of UC Davis.

Nestle J. Frobish, former chairman of the Worldwide Fair Play for Frogs Committee, is Innovation Chair at the UC Davis Center for Climate Adaptation.

Further reading

“The facts about iceberg towing,”

“A Tug on a Frozen Straw,”

“Running ice water,”

“Ice for African Development,”

“Ice Bergs for Middle East Peace!,”



About jaylund

Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Director, Center for Watershed Sciences University of California - Davis
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20 Responses to Climate Warming Brings New Water to California’s Delta

  1. Ronnie Allen says:

    California is not in a drought and ground water is rising. So what the hell is this idiot talking about.?

    We may have a need later but all the lake and damn’s are near or over capacity.

  2. Jennifer Cochrane-Schultz says:

    Seriously? This isn’t a reprint of an article from the Onion?


  3. Katie Andrews says:

    If this is an April Fool’s joke, you need to say “April Fool’s” at the end. Not cool to further destroy the credibility of UC Davis blog.

  4. Linda King says:

    Ha Ha. April Fools!

  5. Linda A King says:

    Typical. You won’t publish criticism.

  6. Robert Scholl says:

    LOL!! You gotta love April Fools Day articles

  7. gymnosperm says:

    April fools!

  8. Dean says:

    April fools???

  9. J Rizzi says:

    Salt Water Diet for the DELTA is what we need to keep the fresh water in the Delta fresher. Dredging to Stockton and Sac. Ports creates a channel for heavy SALT water to push it’s way under the fresh water up and into the Delta. South half of Benicia bridges can slow and limit salt water intrusion while the north 1/2 being left open keep environmentalist happy. South 1/2 would have a lock system in shipping channel and tidal louvers to block salt water like dryer vents.

  10. Tara Smith says:

    It solves all the problems!! What can be better! (:

  11. Fred says:

    “damn’s”? Who’s the idiot?

  12. Interesting how some groups and institutions described above are thinly disguised pseudonyms (ReSnore the Delta, Metrpolitan Water Authority), but Restore Hetch Hetchy is correctly identified and proudly quoted.

    Icebergs are one of many viable solutions for returning Hetch Hetchy Valley to Yosemite and park visitors across the globe without the loss of a single drop of San Francisco’s water supply. Please forward this excellent column to Mayor, I mean Governor, Newsom.

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