Retired architect Glen Mortensen asked if he could stop by the office the other day.
“I’ve got a solution for the Delta,” he said.
After hearing a number of such “solutions” from people over the years, I accepted his request with suspicion. Claiming to have solved the Delta is almost like claiming that you’ve uncovered the true identity of the Zodiac Killer, as various folks are prone to do every few months.
But Mortensen put a lot of thought into his plan — about 20 years, to be exact. And he has a name with credibility. He did the final design, in fact, for the Burns Tower at the University of the Pacific.
Mortensen came in and sat down. “The tunnels are ridiculous,” he said, referring to the governor’s recently unveiled plan for twin tunnels beneath the Delta.
Mortensen’s solution is, first of all, to dredge the Delta thoroughly. This would increase the amount of water that could be conveyed through the channels and would bring more water from the Sacramento River in the north, to the Central Delta.
“It seems a shame to me all this water is running out to the ocean,” he said.
He would then reinforce the Delta levees and plant vegetation on the water side to filter pollutants out of Delta water.
Then he would build a giant rock berm spanning the Sacramento River just west of the San Joaquin. There would be a hole in the berm for fish and ship passage. But when closed, the berm would prevent salt water from coming into the Delta, keeping it full and fresh.
That could be supplemented with another berm on the Carquinez Strait, or even a giant berm west of the Golden Gate Bridge, keeping the ocean out of the San Francisco Bay altogether and preventing the flooding of low-lying Bay locations due to sea level rise.
All of these berms would be hooked up with power generators to harness both wind and water.
With Delta channels free of silt, enough water could be pumped south that some of it could be siphoned off the aqueducts into smaller channels branching off to the east, replenishing the Valley’s depleted groundwater aquifer.
Finally, Mortensen would place 10-foot-tall power generators on streams flowing into the Bay. Anchored to the ground by cables, the generators would be fed by the flowing water to light up nearby homes.
How much would all of this cost?
“Oh, billions — billions,” he said. “But look at the cost for the tunnels.”
Our visit was ending. Out at the car, Mortensen showed me a model he built of a rotary device that turns in the wind to generate power. All of that generation in his plan, he said, would help provide the massive amounts of electricity needed to move water around the state.
I asked him if he thought his plan would really get traction. It would, he said, if people heard about it.
I’m sure there would be scores of environmental and technical issues. But I’ll say this about Mortensen: If everyone thinks about the Delta as much as he does, we might fix it yet.