Tuesday, August 08, 2006

County Cities Could Get Influx of Delta Water

County Cities Could Get Influx of Delta Water
By Barry Eberling

FAIRFIELD - A state court decision that has nothing to do with Solano County includes language that could make the Delta a more reliable water supply for the county's fast-growing cities.

In California, water is always a precious commodity - cities and farmers have fought over water supplies since pioneer days. Cities jockey to get legal rights for enough water to carry out their growth plans.

Solano County water officials think a state Third District Court of Appeals decision concerning a battle over Bay-Delta water rights could help local cities, such as Fairfield.

Applying the logic used in the case, cities in the Delta watershed should always get 100 percent of their state-allocated Delta water supplies, local officials reason. The state often delivers far less water than promised during dry years and even during years with normal rainfall because of shortages.

Los Angeles, Central Valley farms and other far-away Delta water importers would still be subject to cutbacks. But cities in the Delta watershed - cities such as Vacaville and Fairfield - would have priority and get all of their promised supplies.

"It's potentially a very big deal," Solano County Water Agency General Manger David Okita said.

Before anything happens, local water officials must convince the state Department of Water Resources to interpret the court decision as they do.

That's no sure thing, Okita said. It could take years, rather than months, to accomplish this, he said.

Solano County has two sources for water. One is Lake Berryessa reservoir in Napa County. The other is the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Fairfield, Vacaville, Vallejo, Benicia and Suisun City get Delta water from the state's North Bay Aqueduct. The total contracted amount is 47,000 acre feet annually.

The North Bay Aqueduct is part of the massive State Water Project, a series of reservoirs, dams, pumps and aqueducts that serves much of California. But not all of the reservoirs originally envisioned got built and the state cannot always deliver to cities their full allocated water supplies.

For example, in 2001, the state delivered 39 percent of the contracted amounts.

State Appellate Court Judge Ronald Robie wrote the decision that county officials think might change things. Robie's decision dealt with water rights for the federally owned Central Valley Project. Local water officials think the reasoning should apply to state system as well.

Fairfield, like other cities, looks ahead to whether its water supplies can serve expected growth. The city counts on getting only 32 percent of its North Bay Aqueduct water, Assistant Public Works Director Rick Wood said.

If the city could count on 100 percent of its North Bay water, that would be equivalent to another 10,000-acre feet annually. That could meet the yearly water needs of between 10,000 and 20,000 families.

Counting on 100 percent of North Bay Aqueduct water would give Fairfield almost all the remaining water supplies it needs to grow to the size envisioned in its General Plan, Wood said. The plan calls for a city of 136,000 people, compared to about 104,000 today.

Fairfield and Vacaville in 2003 concluded another watershed-of-origin claim. The resulting deal lets them take surplus Delta water during the spring runoffs.

But this latest attempt could let them get all of their allocated water supplies, whether there are surplus amounts available in the Delta or not.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or at beberling@dailyrepublic.net.

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