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ICO Article: Alaskan firm targets water

This article was published in the
Independent Coast Observer
on January 18, 2002.

Alaskan firm targets water from Gualala, Albion Rivers
By Julie Verran

Courtesy Independent Coast Observer, Gualala, CA

Alaska Water Exports of Anchorage filed applications last June to take water from the Gualala and Albion Rivers for export to San Diego.

The state will give public notice of the proposal in a month or so, and open a comment period of 60 days, said Kathryn Gaffney of the Division of Water Rights, California State Water Resources Control Board. The state regards this as a major project.

Ric Davidge of Arctic Water Exports said he is the former director of water for the state of Alaska. San Diego needs 20,000 acre feet of water by 2004; Davidge put together a team of scientists that looked at all the water outflows in the western U.S.

They found only two, the Gualala River and the Albion River, “that could reasonably withstand a take of water, that would not interfere with the ecosytem, which we will protect.” Some people may remember that about 20 years ago the Governor of Alaska, Walter Hickle, proposed a pipeline to carry Alaska water to Southern California. Davidge said he is the one who as state water chief had to tell the governor it would not work.

This proposal would use floating plastic water bags instead of a pipeline. The one off Gualala would be 250 feet wide by 1,000 feet long. Davidge says it will be invisible out there. This concept was adapted from the oil and gas industry.

The bags would fill when the rivers could handle the withdrawal, mainly between October and May, he said. Barges would then tow the water bags south.

The application proposes to take 40 to 170 cubic feet per second per day during winter flows, for a maximum of 20,000 acre feet per year.

“We do not get involved in rivers where the water cannot be harvested in an environmentally sound manner,” said Davidge.

The ICO called about a dozen interested parties statewide, including the Sonoma and Mendocino County planners listed in the application and the major landowner near the proposed diversions. They reacted to the project with anything from laughter to outrage.

Most could not comment because this was the first they heard of it. Considering the response, this may be the first such project proposed in California.

Mendocino County Hydrologist Dennis Slota said he has read about the water bag technology. He said the project would be considered an out-of-basin water transfer, which would raise a concern with the state.

“People are inclined not to favor out-of-basin transfers,” Slota said. One intake would be located near the Gualala Arts Center, and another below Switchville. Fish biologists generally regard the green bridge near Elk Prairie, far upstream from the proposed intakes, to be the limit of tidal influence that defines the Gualala River estuary.

Cisterns and weirs would be built with pumps to send the water through about 7,700 feet of concrete piping to the offshore water bag.

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