Davis and Woodland are one step and $1.2 million closer to teaming up with Conaway Ranch to suck water out of the Sacramento River.
Reclamation District 2035, the agency in charge of securing water for the 17,300-acre ranch, learned last month the federal government would give it $1.2 million to complete the final design for a new pump station.
That gives new fuel to a possible partnership between the ranch and the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency, which is forging ahead with a controversial $325 million project that would give both cities’ residents clean water but triple their water bills.
Both the agency and Conaway want to pump water out of the river. Under their agreement, the ranch would get 80 percent of the water to farm while the cities would get 20 percent.
The current pump station boasts open pipes, which draw in and kill fish.
“They can suck in the largest salmon you can imagine,” said Clean Water Agency board chairman Bill Marble, a Woodland City Council member. “They’re fish killers. They just kill fish and contribute to the woes the river and the delta are facing with reduced fish populations.”
The district’s pump station is the largest north of the delta without screens. There are two other “large” unscreened pump stations: one in Natomas and one in Meridian, a town on the Sacramento River that is 16 miles due west of Yuba City.
The federal government, through its Central Valley Project, provides farmers and other water users money to make their pump stations fish-friendly. About a dozen have used the money to screen their intakes since the early 1990s, said Eric Mische, general manager of the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency. Now the district’s pump station, which was built in 1919, is at the top of the list.
Conaway’s general manager, Regina Cherovsky, told The Enterprise that “there’s nothing forcing our hand” to build a new pump station. “We don’t have any regulatory hammers.”
However, the screens keep water users on the right side of the Endangered Species Act, which penalizes violators up to $25,000 per kill in civil penalties or up to $50,000 and/or a year in jail for criminal violators.
So both Conaway Ranch and the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency need to build new pumping stations, leading the two organizations into a tentative partnership.
However, Conaway can wait for full funding from the feds. Clean Water Agency officials, on the other hand, say they have to start building by 2013 in order to get the river’s clean water to residents and meet wastewater discharge requirements set to take effect in 2017.
Sacramento-based MWH Global has nearly completed one-third of the pump station design, Mische said. The engineering firm will start the second and final design phases in September and wrap up around April 2012, Mische predicted.
Davis and Woodland officials call partnering with Conaway their “Plan A,” but they have an out should the federal dollars disappear or fail to materialize in time. In that case, the cities plan to build their own intake structure a half-mile north of the district’s.
That would cost $10 million to $15 million more than piggybacking off Conaway, said Jim Yost, principal of Davis-based West-Yost Associates, the agency’s engineering firm. Solid numbers on how much each would cost are still being worked out, he added.
“The cost to us of going it alone is many, many, many times higher than being in partnership with the ag folks,” Marble said.
Building with Conaway “is the most economic option; it’s the most environmentally sound option,” he continued. “It’s just the best option all around.”
The current pump station is too old to retrofit with fish screens.
“It’s incredibly old and outdated,” Marble said. “There’s no way to fix it. It has to be completely rebuilt in order to have a modern fish screen ability.”
He’s just hoping the federal funding needed for construction over the next few years doesn’t evaporate.
“I just hope it doesn’t get derailed.”
— Reach Jonathan Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 747-8052.