George Warren, KXTV-Sacramento
8:40 a.m. EDT April 29, 2015
SACRAMENTO—A French engineering and construction firm is proposing a flexible undersea pipeline to carry water from two Northern California rivers to cities farther down the coast.
Via Marina, a subsidiary of the giant multinational company Vinci, has provided a “prefeasibility” study to the California Department of Water Resources suggesting water could be drawn from the mouth of the Klamath and Eel rivers and carried south in a series of 12-foot diameter tubes anchored by ballast to the sea floor.
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Via Marina chairman Felix Bogliolo said the project would largely eliminate environmental concerns because fresh water would be collected just prior to it flowing into the ocean.
“You can use this water and because by definition you are at the mouth of the river, all of the users upstream are not jeopardized,” Bogliolo said.
Via Marina is currently in negotiations in Chile to build a similar submarine river to carry water from a wet area in the south of the country along the Pacific coast to a desert area in the north.
A 1975 study by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation considered a similar approach of harvesting water at the mouth of the Klamath and Eel and carrying it south in floating, rigid pipes. The construction cost was estimated at $20 billion in 1973, and the bureau recommended no further study of the concept be undertaken “until needs are more pressing.”
Bogliolo estimated that technological improvements could allow the Via Marina California project to be built today for as little as $3.8 billion, providing fresh water to the south at a cost of about $653 per acre foot– about a third of the cost of desalinated water, while using about a quarter of the energy.
Bogliolo contacted News10 after seeing the proposal announced last week by actor William Shatner to crowdfund a pipeline along Interstate 5 to carry water from Washington to California — a plan that was immediately dismissed by water officials in both states.
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But Jay Lund, director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, believes the French proposal deserves at least some consideration.
“This is not the craziest idea I’ve heard, by any means,” Lund said. “But every solution for California’s water problems that sounds good usually has some sort of a hidden flaw to it.”
Via Marina has provided the California Department of Water Resources with a copy of the study, but DWR spokesperson Nancy Vogel declined to address the proposal specifically.
“We’ve received hundreds of drought-busting ideas from the public and we’re reviewing them,” Vogel said.