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The 'Big Gulp' Theory

Stopping the SJ River Restoration would be like increasing Millerton by 200,000 acre feet, and it wouldn't cost a dime.

Aug 05, 2013

If you saw the story in the Fresno Bee about the Bureau of Reclamation preparing a report on raising San Luis Dam to enlarge San Luis Reservoir, you might have wondered what they're thinking. San Luis Reservoir could have been filled this year if we hadn't let a million acre feet of water flow through the delta and into the sea unused. Instead it sits at 16% capacity and farmers are idling land and drilling deeper and deeper wells. But, there is some logic to their bureaucratic thinking. It's the 'Big Gulp' theory.

The 'Big Gulp' theory is part of the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). Right now we can't pump the water out of the delta because of Delta Smelt pumping restrictions. Those restrictions are in place because of the location of the current pumps at the southern end of the delta. The BDCP would place the pumps above the delta and pump the water through the twin tunnels and under the delta, thus avoiding the pumping restrictions associated with the current pumps. The 'Big Gulp' theory holds that we could have pumped the water this year if we had the tunnels and could have put it in the San Luis Reservoir. In big rain years we could get even more water.

Like we've said before, we don't have a positiion on the tunnels. It might be good theory. The 'Big Gulp' theory might actually hold water. Raising San Luis Dam, under the conditions of the theory, makes sense. And, if raising San Luis Dam moves along at the same speed as building new dams and building tunnels, it will probably be finished in about 25 years. That'll be great.

There's another 'big gulp' on the east side. It's the 200,000 acre feet we've lost to the San Joaquin River Restoration, water being wasted because the river isn't ready to be restored, but it's being sent anyway. We need to point out it's not just the west side that's in trouble. Stopping the SJ River Restoration would be like increasing Millerton by 200,000 acre feet, and it wouldn't cost a dime. It would save money, and make sense. Common sense can be just as effective as new infrastructure.


Federal agency studies enlarging San Luis Reservoir

by Mark Grossi/Fresno Bee

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is preparing a report on raising San Luis Dam to enlarge San Luis Reservoir in western Merced County.

The 2 million acre-foot reservoir is already the key west Valley holding place for irrigation water for a broad swath of farming, including 600,000-acre Westlands Water District.

Bureau Commissioner Michael Connor on Saturday mentioned his agency is working on a draft appraisal, which roughly describes the benefits, costs and feasibility of raising the dam. Connor was a panel member at the Delta Water Summit.

He did not say why the appraisal is being done now or release other details, such as how much larger the reservoir would become.

His statement about the possible enlargement of San Luis was a surprise to many water agency officials and observers.

The appraisal report should be ready in October. If it appears feasible, the bureau would complete a final feasibility study within a few years.

San Luis is one of the largest off-stream reservoirs in the country, but it is only holding 16% of its capacity right now. Drought and environmental water pumping restrictions in Northern California have left it near historic lows.

Did California Miss the “Big Gulp” Water Supply Moment This Year?

BDCP Conveyance Solution Would Have Both Captured Supplies and Protected Fish Species

Sacramento, CA – Absent a sudden change in the weather pattern, California has missed this year the one opportunity to capture adequate supplies from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta for 25 million people, three million acres of farmland and businesses from the Bay Area down through San Diego. Severe limits on pumping operations earlier this winter prevented water agencies from capturing the high flows of water that were available. Limits on pumping operations are an ongoing issue due to the Delta’s outdated water delivery system.

“Earlier this year, storms came through that could have provided a substantial boost to our water reservoirs, but we simply could not capture enoughwater due to restrictions facing the existing projects in the southern Delta,” said Terry Erlewine, general manager of the State Water Contractors. “If we had intakes in the northern Delta and a way to convey those supplies to the existing aqueducts, as proposed by the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, we could have diverted more supplies without impacting fish species such as Delta smelt.”


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