Delta construction project combats drought impacts

SOLANO COUNTY, Calif. (KTVU) - The drought is calling for ever increasing desperate measures, including doing something to keep one statewide water system from saltwater poisoning.

KTVU's Tom Vacar went to the Delta where a rare construction project will protect tens of millions of Californians.

In announcing Thursday's latest moves to combat the drought, the Governor made his most emphatic statement to date. "I just want you and the public to understand, this is really serious business," said Governor Jerry Brown.

Next week Mark Cowin, the state's Water Resources Director, will take a measure not used in almost 40 years. The last time the measure was used was when California had its last great drought.

"This is very much an emergency measure called for after four years of drought," said Cowin.

Contractors will bring barge after barge filled with millions of rocks about the size of basketballs so they can construct a dam, 750 feet wide, across a river separating two Delta levee tracts.

The rocks are being quarried in San Rafael.

The contractor will place them across the river, which is a job only slightly different from the ongoing placement of rocks to fortify Delta all levee walls.

The barrier will block off saltwater, brought in on tides from the ocean and Bay, which would otherwise have a shortcut into the heart of the Delta's fresh water environment.

There are two massive pumping stations close by that send freshwater to Central Valley farms and 25 million southern Californians.

If the snow pack was normal and reservoirs full, normal water flows would keep the salt out, but every drop being held in reservoirs upstream is precious. "We don't want to have to release that upstream water any more than we have to - to repel salinity - so this barrier is essentially an insurance policy. Such that if we get tidal action that we're not expecting or a storm moves in with winds, it will prevent that salt from moving into the interior Delta and disrupting our water supply," says Water Resources Director Cowin.

Since saltwater would destroy the Delta's fragile environment, wreck central valley agriculture and cause a huge water emergency in all of southern California, the $38 million needed to erect and remove the temporary barrier would be cheap insurance indeed.

The barrier will be removed before the rainy season begins later this year.