continued Davidge and his engineers selected 15 sites, then narrowed that pool to five, then to a final two rivers, the Albion and Gualala Rivers, the former in Mendocino County, the latter in both Mendocino County and Sonoma County to the south. Both sites are over 100 miles north of San Francisco.
The next step was to figure out how to collect the water from the rivers. Davidge says his engineers have come up with a simple system that will have a minimum effect on the rivers. "It's not like what anyone else does," he explains. "Usually, when somebody harvests water out of a river, they put a pipeline in the river and they simply pump the water up into a water utility. That means the water downstream from that take point is lower as a result of that artificial impoundment or taking. So it clearly does have an effect on the downstream fish and wildlife and recreational uses and aesthetic concerns. What we want to do, what we proposed to the state, is to bury a concrete cistern into what we call the alluvial material, which is the sand and rock underneath the river. And we will run the pipeline within the rivers' hydrologic system. In other words, we don't take any water out of the riverbed, we don't displace any water out of the river, until the river dumps into the ocean. So although we are intercepting -- or what we call segregating -- the water upstream just above the highest point of saltwater intrusion the water is not being moved from the river's hydrologic system until it enters the ocean. So it has no effect on flow or water depth. And because we put this into the alluvial material, rather than just lay it in the river, we are not interfacing with fish and wildlife. It is aesthetically not visible; you can't see it. So, environmentally, we have designed a way to harvest water from streams that has no measurable downstream effect."
Davidge concedes that the river will be disturbed and the water dirtied during the laying of the pipeline. "So you do it in a single operation," he explains, "in which you dig and lay the pipe at the same time. You get that done quickly and get out of there and clean it up. But what you are doing there, particularly in these Northern California rivers, is nothing more than what happens during a storm surge. The amount of loading [that is, dirtying the water] that takes place in a storm surge, especially when you have significant 50-year [storms], is far more dramatic than what we would be involved with in burying the pipe."
A pump in the under-river cistern will maintain pressure in the line. The giant water-transfer bags in Davidge's plan will not be filled in the river. The pipeline running through the alluvial will continue out the mouth of the river to a buoy far enough out in the ocean to be beyond the surf. "The pipeline goes off into the ocean and runs out a distance to get away from the tidal area," Davidge explains. "We don't want to be interacting with waves and those kind of things. It ends at a buoy where the bag can be hooked up to it, and there is a pumping system underneath the buoy that is not visible from the shore. That pumps the water into the bag."
A similar pipeline and buoy system would need to be constructed here in San Diego to transfer water from the transport bags into our water system. As of yet, no potential site has been selected for that pipeline.
Davidge filed his application with the state in February. The state is now in a six-month period of public response to the proposal. Mendocino County's board of supervisors' response was to pass a resolution against the project. And in the rural towns of Albion and Gualala, near the mouths of the two rivers, there has been plenty of it. Each town has its own group in opposition, each with a catchy acronym of protest for a title. In Albion, it's FLOW (Forget Lifting Our Water) and in Gualala it's SORE (Save Our Rivers and Estuaries). Davidge calls these responses emotional and uninformed and points out a legal misconception imbedded in the very titles of the protest groups. "As the director of the state Water Resources Board told them in a meeting recently, 'It is not your water. That water belongs to the people of California.' "