California water officials are planning to temporarily dam three channels on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to keep out salty ocean water if the state's drought persists.
Two of the barriers would be aimed at reducing freshwater outflows from the Sacramento River, allowing it to better hold back sediment that would creep in from San Francisco Bay as river flows dwindle because of the drought.
The other barrier would keep salinity from seeping into the central Delta, officials said.
Mark Holderman of the California Department of Water Resources told the Sacramento Bee that his agency is scrambling to obtain permits for the project, which could cost up to $40 million. The goal is to place the barriers as soon as May 1.
"It really creates all kind of problems if we let the Delta get too salty," Holderman told the newspaper.
Under the plan, rock barriers would be piled at the mouths of two channels on the Sacramento River in Sacramento County and the third in Contra Costa County on the San Joaquin River.
Salinity is an ongoing problem for providers such as the Contra Costa Water District that serves about 500,000 people water from the Delta. Statewide, about 25 million people from Napa to San Diego depend on the Delta, in addition to some 3 million acres of farmland, the newspaper reported.
The plan is drawing criticism from farmers who take irrigation water from the channels that would be dammed.
J.B. Morais of Delta Islands Organic Farm, who grows vegetables that end up on restaurant tables, said the state's plan threatens his irrigation source.
"It worries me that they are going to design a system that cuts off a good portion of Delta irrigation to a large number of farmers," Morais told the newspaper. "It worries me a lot."