Family Water Alliance - Learn more
About Us
Our Issues
Flood Control
You Can Help
Photo Gallery
Contact us
Green Ribbon Reports
Visit the Fish Forum
Green Ribbon Reports

Fall 2008

Still Stuck Between a Rock & a Hardpoint

A secure, long-term water supply for farms, ranches and residents of the Sacramento Valley has proved to be a constant battle. Many farmers have relied on the same water supply for over one hundred years and M&T Ranch/Llano Seco Ranch in Butte County is no exception. The difficulties of preserving the ranches water rights and protecting the ecosystem has put these ranches at a critical tipping point. 

The history of the M&T/ Llano Seco Pumping Plant dates back to the very early 1900’s, when the pumping plant was put into service on Big Chico Creek, just above the confluence of the Sacramento River. But the pumping plant was moved in 1996 when the ranch’s owners struck a deal to move the pumping plant to the Sacramento River to protect the fishery resources of Big Chico Creek.

It was no easy task to relocate the pumping plant to the Sacramento River and it cost over $5 million. During the feasibility study for the pump plant relocation, a state agency assured the pump owners and many other interested parties that the new location at river mile 192.75 was the most feasible for a long-term supply of water.   

Although the new location was guaranteed to be the most stable place for the ranches to have a reliable source of water, the high water events of the late 1990’s moved a gravel bar over 1,200 feet down river. The gravel bar now jeopardizes the M&T/ Llano Seco Pumping Plant and the City of Chico’s waste water treatment plant outfall that is located on the same bank just 300 feet down stream. 

Luckily, in 2001, over 11 different dredging permits were approved to allow the ranches and the City of Chico to move 200,000 tons of gravel to a stockpile area on the M&T Ranch, as a short term solution to the river meander/gravel bar migration problem. At that time, the ranches, through the cooperation of Ducks Unlimited, as the project coordinator, received a grant to conduct a study to identify a long-term solution to provide M&T Ranch, Llano Seco Ranch, and the National Wildlife Refuge, with long-term reliable water for thousands of acres of farmland and vital wetland habitat. 

Over 15 different alternatives were considered  during the study, including:  moving the pumping plant either 2,000 or 3,000 feet down river from its current location; moving the inlet and fish screens; long-term dredging;  groundwater; and ranney collectors. The lengthy 5-year study process that concluded in September has the study’s engineers identifying spur dikes as being the most feasible to provide a long term water supply for the ranches and the refuge.

From 2001 to 2007, the gravel bar returned requiring additional dredging and permits to keep the pumping plant in operation. In 2007, another 100,000 tons of gravel was cleared from the river. Furthermore, the City of Chico in 2009 is planning on moving the city’s wastewater plant outfall 1,200 feet down river to buy them 15 to 20 years of additional operation. The 9 spur dikes on the west bank of the river that have been identified as the feasible solution will give the ranches a reliable long-term water supply and the city a secure outfall location into the foreseeable future.   

The study team headed by Ducks Unlimited, has encountered some resistance to the spur dike alternative from The Nature Conservancy (TNC), which has a conservation easement on property across the river from the pumping plant where two of the spur dikes would need to be placed. The study group has also enlisted the help of the Sacramento River Conservation Area Forum (SRCAF) to assist in the protection of the pumping plant as well as Chico’s sanitation plant outfall location. The SRCAF Handbook clearly states that bank stabilization and protection of hard points, such as bridges and pumping plants, will be supported by the SRCAF. 

Les Heringer, manager of the M&T Ranch, has been active in the SRCAF since its inception in 1986. He assisted in the completing the SRCAF Handbook to assure that farmers would have a voice along the Sacramento River. M&T/ Llano Seco Pumping Plant was the third pumping plant to have a fish screen on the Sacramento River only behind Anderson Cottonwood Irrigation District and Glenn Colusa Irrigation District. M&T and Llano Seco voluntarily moved their pumping plant from Big Chico Creek, which had served them for over eighty years and relinquished some of their valuable water rights on Butte Creek all to protect the north states fishery resource, as part of their in-kind cost share of the pumping plant relocation.

The study to find a long-term solution for the M&T Ranch/ Llano Seco Ranch Pumping Plant problem took many years and only one true long term solution for a reliable water supply exists. Spur dikes are used across the nation and have been previously used on the Sacramento River. The most recent ones were used by Caltrans just above the Butte City Bridge. The bridge is considered a hardpoint along the river and as such the spur dikes we used to protect the bridge from river meander as a long-term solution.

It is the hope of the M&T /Llano Seco Ranches and the study group that TNC reconsiders their opposition to the spur dikes. Independent scientists have shown that the spur dikes do have environmental benefits and would not damage the environment in anyway. There is so much more at risk here from an environmental standpoint than 2 spur dikes on a gravel bar, if a viable long term solution is not implemented. If it cost $5 million to move the pumping plant 12 years ago, it is almost a guarantee that the price has since at least doubled. Moving the plant will only provide 20-30 years before the gravel bar again threatens the facility. What other alternative do the ranches have as permits are increasingly difficult to get as increase environmental regulation threaten the viability of farming in California. Our states water crisis will only further this all ready paramount issue.

Now is the time for TNC to be a good neighbor and work cooperatively to preserve the long-term water supply of the M&T and Llano Seco Ranch as well as the wildlife refuge. Family Water Alliance feels this is the spirit of Senate Bill 1086 and the Sacramento River Conservation Area Forum. Over 20 years have been spent on this cooperative process involving thousands and thousands of hours of input by landowners, farmers, environmental groups, local/state/federal agency employees, and elected officials and their representatives.

Now is the time to implement a long term solution and not hide behind political rhetoric. The time is now to look at the best science available and protect this vital piece of infrastructures. ■


Return to the Losing the Family Farm index

Home | Top