2-Gates approval likely still several months away

By WES SANDER

Capital Press

A project for installing two swiveling gates in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta won't likely see final approvals until sometime next year.

The 2-Gates Fish Protection Demonstration Project, led by the federal Bureau of Reclamation, involves two temporary, mechanically operated gates that would help control Delta flows.

They could therefore help restore some Delta pumping lost because of recent biological opinions to protect fish. The project consists of a five-year trial of the portable gate system.

Water stakeholders are anxiously awaiting the project. Water managers describe it as a valuable short- and long-term tool for balancing Delta flows with exports to users.

Water managers say the gates, much talked about at water gatherings this year, would function as one tool among many that could allow for successful Delta management in the future.

The plan's authors have said they hoped a fast-tracking effort by the state would get the project done by January. But that doesn't look quite realistic, said bureau spokeswoman Janet Sierzputowski.

"This project is not final by any stretch," Sierzputowski said. "There are a lot of permits that we have to get, and we still haven't got the final word on financing."

The plan's authors have pegged the project's cost at $29 million. User-fee and bond sources have been talked about.

The authors say the gates will help keep turbid water, washed into the Delta with rains and spring runoff, upstream and away from the pumps. Smelt populations have been shown to follow turbid water.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation has published an Environmental Assessment, a step required under the National Environmental Policy Act. The comment period started at the document's Oct 19 release. It ends Nov. 17.

As part of the process, the agency held three public-input meetings the week of Oct. 26, in the Central Valley cities of Fresno and Stockton and the town of Discovery Bay in the central Delta.

The Delta meeting drew the greatest attendance, Sierzputowski said. It attracted more than 500 -- the Fresno and Stockton events drew 60 and 30, respectively -- and was dominated by boating interests concerned about navigation, she said.

Upon reviewing the environmental assessment, the agency could decide an environmental impact statement is necessary. That would add several more months to the process, Sierzputowski said.

Similar timetables could be experienced several of the several agencies involved, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, National Marine Fisheries Service and state Department of Fish and Game.

"Some people think we're taking too long, and other people say we're moving too quickly," Sierzputowski said. "We're trying to do right by our contractors, we're trying to do right by the environment, we're trying to do right by the people who live in that area."

Staff writer Wes Sander is based in Sacramento. E-mail: wsander@capitalpress.com .

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