Skeptical Delta landowners heard details Thursday night of a state plan to install four rock barriers in the estuary, an effort to block salinity from San Francisco Bay and allow officials to hold back more water in reservoirs this summer.
Without the barriers, three major reservoirs would sink to “dead pool” levels before the coming dry season ends, the Department of Water Resources’ Paul Marshall said at a meeting of the Delta Protection Commission in Stockton.
The barriers, Marshall said, could delay that outcome until perhaps December, when there’s a good chance rain and snow will begin to return.
“We can kind of get over the hump,” he said.
Each barrier would be outfitted with four 48-inch culverts to provide water to downstream users and maintain downstream water quality.
Some landowners weren’t so sure that would work.
Sutter Island farmer Tim Neuharth said he believed the barriers were intended simply to retain water quality to facilitate water exports from the south Delta state and federal pumps. He said he was concerned about impacts to Delta growers.
“You have to remember this is in the middle of our growing season,” Neuharth said. “New cherries, grapes, regular crop rotations cannot handle salinity issues.”
Osha Meserve, an attorney for north Delta landowners, said she would need to see exactly how the barriers would be operated and how the state would mitigate any adverse impacts before she could be “comfortable” with the plan.
Another barriers effort during the 1976-77 drought was executed after the irrigation season was already over, said Melinda Terry, general manager of the North Delta Water Agency.
“This is right when they’re starting,” she said. “The impacts are really much greater.”
Larry Ruhstaller, a San Joaquin County supervisor and chair of the commission, urged state officials to meet with landowners and provide more details about potential impacts.
“They literally are going to be faced with planting or not planting” in the coming weeks, Ruhstaller said.