Published: March 17, 2016

    Solving California’s Water Problem with Gravity

    Even when not considering the current California drought, the existing system of pumps and gates sucking freshwater out of the San Joaquin Delta is an imperfect water gathering system. A new initiative announced by Governor Jerry Brown in January of 2016 seeks to radically change the system and how water moves throughout the state. Called the California Water Fix, the project could alleviate some of the state’s water woes, although critics are concerned the environmental costs could outweigh the benefits.

    As the existing system pulls freshwater from the delta, it drags saltwater and fish into the ecosystem that would otherwise not be there. Under the proposed system, water would instead be taken from further upriver, long before it hits the delta, and then be redirected through two gargantuan pipes, each 40 feet in diameter. As the water is already moving down to sea level, the entire system would be powered by gravity.

    The pipes would be strengthened to protect against earthquake damage. Climate change has also been taken into account: With the water drawn from the higher country and not the delta, it won’t be affected by future changes in sea level.

    While few would argue the old system of pumps and gates needs replacing, some are concerned the new pipes will have an even more negative effect on the San Joaquin Delta, its wildlife, and its surrounding communities. With so much water diverted to the pipes, critics of the plan worry whether the amount of freshwater entering the delta will be sufficient to flush saltwater from the ecologically fragile area.

    There are multiple pros and cons to the California Water Fix project, so expect long and protracted campaigns from opposing sides. One thing is clear: The old system no longer serves the best interests of California. What will replace it remains to be seen.

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