It’s a familiar sight to see Concord’s Mark DeSaulnier jogging on the canal trails in his hometown.
“I love the trails along and the canal,” he says. “They’re a local gem.”
That’s one of the reasons the Congressman from California’s 11th District teamed with Sen. Dianne Feinstein to author legislation that ultimately will allow for upgrades to the Contra Costa Canal. The bill, signed into law in mid-March, transfers ownership of the canal from the Bureau of Reclamation to the Contra Costa Water District (CCWD).
“Passage of the Contra Costa Canal Transfer Act allows the Contra Costa Water District to implement long-overdue improvements to the canal,” Rep. DeSaulnier said.
He said the Bureau of Reclamation didn’t have resources for improvements, which include what he termed “critical safety and structural improvements” – like the possibility of covering the canal.
However, residents shouldn’t expect to see changes soon, said Jennifer Allen of the CCWD. “The bureau and the district have to work out the title transfer, and that will take months. Then it is going to take up to several years to determine the changes and improvements that need to be made,” she said.
Officials haven’t determined the initial cost of the transfer and the upgrades, but Allen said the design phase alone is about $500 million. “The improvements will ultimately cost hundreds of millions of dollars,” she said.
It will take awhile to see how much of a hike ratepayers will shoulder, but Allen said there would be “plenty of opportunities” for public input on the project.
CCWD will also be working closely with the East Bay Regional Parks District, which oversees the trails along the canal, Allen said.
The 48-mile canal, which runs between Rock Slough in Knightson and the Martinez water treatment plant, delivers water to both residences and business in Central County and also to the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys for irrigation. Built between 1937 and 1948, the canal was mainly used for irrigation, especially in the agriculture-rich communities of Concord, Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill.
As the area population exploded, DeSaulnier said, more of the water was used for residential purposes. “That’s why it’s time for an upgrade,” he said.
The first part of the project will focus on the 22-mile stretch east from the Concord Naval Weapons Station to the mouth of the canal, partly because that’s where most deaths have occurred in the rushing water, Allen said.
In the past 80 years, 81 people have drowned in the canal. Despite high fences around parts of the canal and signage that warns of danger, Allen said people still scale the fences. CCWD is in charge of patrolling the perimeter of the canals.
Covering the entire canal, like putting in a pipeline, will have its share of issues, Allen said, such as affecting riparian habitats and changing the landscape of the area.
“The canal is part of the community,” Allen said. “It will take quite a while to iron out a new plan, so we want to do it right.”