by Nestle J. Frobish
Today the Megalopolitan Water District of California (a consortium of southern California and Bay Area urban water suppliers) proposed building a new aqueduct to take water from the Sacramento River to Bay Area and southern California cities. The aqueduct, depicted below, would avoid the subsurface uncertainties of a Delta tunnel, ease monitoring and inspections, and avoid interference with fish and wildlife migrations in and through the Delta.
The proposal states, “For centuries, major Mediterranean urban areas relied on aqueducts to supply waters to sustain their economic and cultural prosperity. For decades, we have built canals and pipelines in California for this purpose. Our cities in southern California and the Bay Area have concluded that a more classical Delta conveyance solution should be sought if the state’s currently proposed tunnel is rejected.”
Proponents stated that an above-ground aqueduct would allow all sides of the Delta debates to “win”. There would be no tunnels or peripheral canal, there would be water for cities that does not reverse flows for fish in the Delta, and there would be highly-visible attractive naming opportunities. Indeed, if constructed in the old style, each southern California and Bay Area resident using the water could have their name engraved on one of the aqueduct’s many stones, with each Delta land owner immortalized with the naming of an arch.
Donald Hightower, a spokesman for the Bay Area Water Suppliers Alliance (BAWSA), noted, “Major State Water Project facilities were built with great pride and extensive staffed public visitor centers. Sadly, these visitor centers are now largely closed, and visitors can hardly see some of California’s most important public infrastructure. An above ground aqueduct across the Delta would provide a visible monument to California’s successes in water management, from miles away, and a tourist attraction for the Delta economy.”
The Transportation and Recreation Authority of California (TRAC) is considering joining the proposal, seeing it as a potential water slide to enjoyably increase public transport capacity from Sacramento to the Bay Area.
“Today, we proposed an above-ground aqueduct across the Delta that will define the Delta as a very special place, the home of the world’s longest above-ground aqueduct. All aspects of this project will be above ground and visible, from construction to operations,” said Geoffrey Kiteflyer, the retiring Director of the District. “I hope this project serves as long as Valens’ did for Constantinople and Istanbul.”
Some expressed skepticism, noting the high expense of the project and the low flows supplied by such aqueducts in ancient times, compared to modern expectations. “Valen’s aqueduct served one of the world’s largest cities in 400 AD with less than 100 cfs of flow. That was a lot then, but is not so much now, compared with the Delta pumps 15,000 cfs current capacity,” said former DWR employee Sam Gei. Several environmental groups, although not unhappy about the reduced Delta diversions, expressed concern for the effects of an above-ground aqueduct on waterfowl flight paths and solar shading of native plants, and are organizing themselves into a group called “Delta Arch-Enemies”.
Past solutions for Delta conveyance have concentrated on taking water through the Delta, around the Delta, or under the Delta. Perhaps it is time to look at taking water over the Delta.
With or without an aqueduct, the Delta is a beautiful region with some problems which cannot be solved perfectly.
Frontinus, Sextus Julius (97 AD), The Aqueducts of Rome, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Frontinus/De_Aquis/text*.html
Nestle J. Frobish is former chairman of the Worldwide Fair Play for Frogs Committee and an avid advocate for wetlands and rivers.