Calif. Drought Plan: Make Water Flow Uphill

Ambitious plan would cost millions

By Newser Editors and Wire Services

Posted May 8, 2014 10:41 AM CDT

(Newser) – Water has flowed from Northern California's snow-capped peaks to the south's parched cities ever since the California Aqueduct was built in the 1960s. Now, amid one of the worst droughts in history, state officials are considering an audacious plan to send some of the water back uphill. State water engineers say using pumps to reverse the flow of the aqueduct would be a first in a drought. It would also be a complex engineering challenge that could cost millions of dollars. Still, water agencies in the desperately dry farmlands around Bakersfield say the investment is worth it to keep grapevines, pistachios, and pomegranate trees alive. Agencies as far north as the San Francisco Bay Area are talking about a similar project.

"There is no place on planet Earth where an aqueduct is designed to go backwards," says Geoff Shaw, an engineer with the state Department of Water Resources who is reviewing the proposal. "But they have a need for water in a place where they can't fulfill it, and this is their plan to fix it." The plan the department is evaluating was drawn up by five of the local agencies, or districts, that sell irrigation water to farmers. They would bear the cost of the project, which they have estimated at $1.5 million to $9.5 million. They hope to get approval from the state in June and start pushing the water uphill later in the summer. (Another interesting drought solution: turning toilet water into drinking water.)

In this Sept. 23, 2013 file photo, water flows through fish diversion louvres at the John E. Skinner Delta Fish Protective Facility near Tracy, Calif.
In this Sept. 23, 2013 file photo, water flows through fish diversion louvres at the John E. Skinner Delta Fish Protective Facility near Tracy, Calif.   (Rich Pedroncelli)
In this Oct. 8, 2009 file photo, sunlight is seen reflecting on water flowing south in the California Aqueduct near Patterson, Calif.
In this Oct. 8, 2009 file photo, sunlight is seen reflecting on water flowing south in the California Aqueduct near Patterson, Calif.   (Rich Pedroncelli)
This undated file photo released by the California Department of Water Resources shows water making its way south through the Central Valley by way of the California Aqueduct.
This undated file photo released by the California Department of Water Resources shows water making its way south through the Central Valley by way of the California Aqueduct.   (Dale Kolke)
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