San Bernardino Valley residents will find out later this month how far Governor Gavin Newsom is willing to go to support projects designed to ensure the long-term reliability of our imported water supplies.
The governor’s soon-to-be-released Water Resilience Portfolio will describe current and future water projects that are considered priority projects for the Newsom administration, including improvements to the State Water Project, which provides roughly 25 percent of the San Bernardino Valley’s water supply.
“The Water Resilience Portfolio is important because it will spell out the governor’s vision for projects that ensure the long-term reliability of California’s water supplies,” said Douglas Headrick, general manager of San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District.
Valley District imports State Water Project water from Northern California and distributes it to local water agencies across the San Bernardino Valley, from Rialto to Yucaipa. Valley District also uses imported water to recharge local groundwater basins.
“We anticipate that the Delta Conveyance Project will be at least one significant component of Gov. Newsom’s plan,” Headrick said.
The Delta Conveyance Project involves the design and construction of a tunnel that will transport water from Northern California under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where it is then pumped into an aqueduct for distribution to water agencies in Central and Southern California, including the San Bernardino Valley. The Delta Conveyance Project is designed to protect critical water supplies from growing threats of salt-water contamination as well as the collapse of aging, century-old levies in the Delta area.
The State Water Project is a 600-mile-long water delivery system that transports mountain runoff from Lake Oroville in Northern California to meet the water needs of residents and businesses throughout the state, including in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. However, the state never built a pipeline or aqueduct to safely transport this water either through or around the Delta, instead allowing this water supply to flow naturally through the Delta. This has left our vital water supply at risk due to a combination of endangered species related and other impacts.
”The Delta is a massive watershed that serves as the transition point for the majority of the runoff from the Sierra Nevada from the Tehachapi’s northward to the mountains south of Lake Shasta,” commented Headrick.
But Headrick notes that the Delta was historically a tidal wetland that naturally receives varying amounts of salt water from the neighboring San Francisco Bay. Thousands of levies were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s to enable farmers to carve out portions of the Delta for farming. The state has been relying on those same aging levies to protect the integrity of State Water Project water that also flows through the Delta. But the state now recognizes that such an approach is unsustainable.
“The Delta’s antiquated levies are incapable of holding back rising sea levels caused by sea level rise,” Headrick said. “This increases the chances of salt water intrusions that could contaminate the water supplies that two thirds of Californians depend on. These levies also have the potential to collapse in the event of a major earthquake, which is also anticipated in the Delta region within the next two decades. That’s why the Delta Conveyance Project is needed.”
Despite the urgency of building the tunnel project, Headrick said the Delta Conveyance Project has its opponents, including both environmental and farming interests.
“We have initiated a new public involvement process to try to get the opposition to sit down and discuss things,” Headrick said.
But Headrick said he believes some type of water conveyance project is necessary and will include substantial mitigation to offset any anticipated environmental impacts.
The latest timeline for the Delta Conveyance Project is two to three years for permitting and 10 years for construction. The costs of the project will be paid by State Water Project contractors, including Valley District.