BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARDPOINT
River Meander Threatens Vital Infrastructure
The Sacramento River serves many purposes for many different interests:
It is a water delivery system for farms and cities; a conduit for
flood waters; a place to recreate for boaters, fishermen, floaters,
hikers, and sightseers; and serves as habitat to a variety of species.
Recently, many environmental interests have promoted the concept
of river meander for the stated purpose of improving riparian and
fish habitat. However, oftentimes important human needs are not
taken into consideration when these decisions are made. While the
improvement of habitat is a laudable goal, it should not be permitted
to trump the other interests that depend on this waterway as well.
While a meandering river is appropriate in some places, it is often
not compatible with the interests of the people who work, live,
and recreate along its banks.
Below are just a few examples of the negative impacts associated
with an unchecked meandering Sacramento River.
The promotion of river meander is a great threat to the Sacramento
River flood control system, upon which we depend for protection
of our lives, homes, and billions of dollars worth of investments.
It cuts into the levees causing erosion problems, thereby undermining
the stability of these protective barriers. It results in the deposition
of silt and gravel that fills in the river channel, weirs and bypasses,
thus reducing the effectiveness of the designed flood control system.
It recruits large woody debris that impairs navigatablility, damages
infrastructure, causes damning effects within the river channel,
creates sand bars, and reduces the conveyance capacity of the river
channel, thereby placing further pressure on the levees.
Over the last thirty plus years, the costs associated with maintaining
and operating this system has spun out of control. Historically,
routine dredging, removal of large woody debris, cleaning out of
weirs and bypasses, and the placement of rock on eroding portions
of the levees was conducted annually to offset the degradation of
the system caused by the river meander.
However, due to environmental regulation, the costs of mitigation,
and a lack of funding from Sacramento, the flood control system
has drastically deteriorated, and shows no signs for immediate improvement
without a significant change in policy. The cost of repairing one
linear foot of levee has reportedly increased from approximately
$300 per linear foot, to the astronomical figure of $5,000-$12,000
per linear foot (depending on the mitigation required). This outrageous
increase in cost is primarily due to the environmental review and
mitigation now required.
A recent report by the United States Army Corps of Engineers has
identified 186 erosion points, 25 deemed potentially critical or
critical. It is estimated that this deferred maintenance will cost
upwards of $600 million to correct.
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) recently released
a report entitled "Flood Warnings: Responding to California’s
Flood Crisis" which details the dire state of flood control.
This report calls for the establishment of an assessment district
[ MORE FEES ] to pay for the much needed maintenance that the state
has ignored and neglected to fund.
It is clear that the promotion of an unchecked river meander negatively
impacts everyone in the state, from both a safety and an economic
perspective. Yet, reasonable solutions that address the needs of
people are oftentimes resisted.
Princeton, Codora, Glenn and Provident Irrigation Districts
Approximately five years ago, the Princeton, Codora, Glenn and
Provident Irrigation Districts (PCGID-PID) consolidated their pumping
plant facilities and built a state of the art of fish screen, at
a cost of $11 million. This consolidation and screening project
resulted in protection for the fishery population, compliance with
the ESA, and assured a dependable supply of water for 30,000 acres
of farmland. However, the river is meandering away from the pumping
plant and fish screen, threatening the continued viability of this
Historically, protecting the plant would have merely consisted
of placing rock on the eroding bank. But, it is not so easy in today’s
world. Across the river is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s
500 acre Llano Seco Wildlife Refuge. The Sacramento River Partners,
a restoration group, has been contracted to do the restoration work
on the 500 acre piece of property. Rock on the bank was not in the
intial plan, as the proponents of the restoration project promote
a meandering river and expansion of the riparian habitat along the
river. Thus, the restoration plans and the protection of the pumping
plant are not wholly compatible.
After a frustrating dialogue between the stakeholders initially
led to a stalemate, the parties have since agreed to proceed with
a study funded by CALFED, at a cost of almost $290,000, to analyze
a solution that will address the needs of both.
However, it remains to be seen if a mutually acceptable plan will
prevail. The currently favored alternative now being studied consists
of breaching a bend in the river, removing rock in one place, and
building dikes at another spot across from the pumping plant. This
alternative would come at cost of approximately $3 million dollars.
In the meantime, one large flood event could potentially migrate
the river far enough away from the pumping plant to render it inoperable,
thereby leaving thousands of acres of productive farmland without
water, and causing disastrous economic impacts for individuals and
M & T Chico Ranch/Llano Seco Ranch and Refuge Pumps,
City of Chico Wastewater Treatment Outfall
In 1996, the M & T Chico Ranch, and the Llano Seco Ranch and
Refuge moved their pumping facility from Big Chico Creek to the
east bank of the Sacramento River as part of a cooperative effort
to improve the fishery resources on Big Chico Creek, Butte Creek,
and the Sacramento River. The City of Chico’s wastewater treatment
outfall is located on the same bank approximately 300 feet downstream.
Operation of the pumping facility and the Chico outfall is currently
threatened by deposition of sediment at the pump intake and the
City outfall, this is attributed to the river meandering.
In 2001, as a short term fix, a large gravel bar was removed, but
is now coming back. In 2003, a study was undertaken to assess the
potential for long term alternatives to protect this vital infrastructure.
According to the study group, the two most viable solutions, as
of the February 2005 meeting, included: (1) the erection of dikes
to shore up the opposite bank, thus preventing the further migration
of the river to the west and minimizing the deposit of sediment
in front of the pumps and outfall; or (2) abandonment of the existing
pumping plant, and the installation of Ranney Collectors, an apparatus
that works like a groundwater pump, but instead of pulling water
from an aquifer, it pulls water from the gravel under the river.
According to Les Heringer, the General Manager of M & T Chico
Ranch, the Ranney Collectors would cost approximately $12-15 million,
would leave the investment for the current pumping plant useless,
would increase the cost of pumping about 400%, and may not guarantee
the necessary water to irrigate the ranches or the refuge in the
At a recent SRCAF Board Meeting, Mr. Heringer provided an update
on the studies, and expressed his uneasiness with the results to
date. His uneasiness is based on concerns from the engineers that
if the river migrates too far west, the erection of dikes will cease
to be a solution. This reality could be one big flood event away,
jeopardizing the one practical solution available.
Heringer also explained that the two Ranches gave up valuable water
rights on Butte Creek as a part of the deal to relocate the pumping
plant to assist with the efforts to rehabilitate the salmon populations.
He pointed out that the only economically viable alternative for
both the ranch and the refuge is to protect the opposite bank and
maintain the current pumping plant.
Heringer expressed his frustration that farmers had hung their
hats with the SRCAF on the idea that if they went along with this
program, that promotes a limited river meander, "where appropriate",
that they would have the ability to protect vital hardpoints on
a timely basis.
To date, they continue to work on a long term solution while two
private ranches, a wildlife refuge, and a public work all are in
Colusa Boat Ramp/Roberts Irrigation Ditch
The Colusa Boat Ramp, located at the California State Park in the
City of Colusa, has also suffered greatly due to the river meander.
Years ago, the Boat Ramp provided access directly to the river.
Since that time, the river has migrated a considerable distance
from the launch site, and the mouth of the channel is regularly
silted in. Annual dredging (approximately 1000 feet) is now required
in order to keep the ramp operable. Also, this location serves as
an agricultural diversion for the Robert’s Ditch Irrigation
Company, who has a riparian diversion at the same point, and which
is equally compromised by the river meander and siltation problem.
When the channel silts in, it renders both the pump/fish screen
and the boat ramp useless, thus denying public and emergency service
access to the river, as well as depriving farmers water to irrigate.
The short term solution, dredging, is costly, time consuming, and
requires permits from the state and federal resource agencies. Presently,
after much effort, a five year permit has been awarded to conduct
dredging activities. The State Park and Robert’s Ditch have
provided funding in the past for the dredging, however, the annual
costs have recently proven prohibitive.
The long term solution is the relocation of the boat ramp. The
Colusa Boat Ramp Committee, a consortium of concerned individuals
and organizations concerned about this issue, held a raffle last
year to raise funds to help pay for the preliminary work for the
relocation project, as well as to keep the existing boat ramp open.
Grant funding is being pursued to pay for a new ramp at a permanently
protected location, at a cost likely to be well over one million
The inability to protect this hardpoint has many ramifications.
The ability to irrigate land has been compromised. The loss of use
of the boat ramp has recreational, economic and safety impacts.
When boats are unable to launch, fewer people spend dollars related
to fishing and boating activities in the community. Even more critical
is the concern that search and rescue and emergency services are
unable to access the river in the case of an emergency.
In fact, recently a medical emergency on a boat occurred, requiring
a quick evacuation at the boat ramp. Just five days later, the channel
to the boat ramp was completely dry. Had the emergency occurred
then, it would have cost a significant amount of precious time,
possibly resulting in the loss of life.
While nobody wants to see the entire river channel rocked, the
needs of the people should carry some weight. However, in today’s
world of environmental zeal, it often feels like the needs of the
fish trump those of the citizens. Balanced solutions that account
for the needs of the environment, farmers, fishermen, boaters, and
communities are available, and are the options that should be pursued.
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