It is very visible from Interstate 5 near the Pocket exit, a sleek white structure along the river's edge adjacent to a hovering silver, old-fashioned water tower. One old and familiar, the other new and fresh, both vital for delivering that precious resource – water.
The new Freeport Intake and Pumping facility is a key part of a billion-dollar plan to provide a much-needed water supply for the Sacramento area and deliver a critical supplemental supply for 1.3 million customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties during the driest of times – times that could have otherwise proved economically devastating .
Forty years ago, these two communities were engaged in a battle that was so hard fought that even a 17-year courtroom confrontation could not resolve their differences. At issue were EBMUD's federal contract rights to take water from the American River. Sacramento leaders vowed to fight what they said was an unfair infringement on the American River – considered an invaluable recreational asset by many in the area – until the bitter end. EBMUD sought to get some of the water it had been paying for since 1970 to protect its East Bay customers against the devastation of a severe drought.
For three decades, there seemed little hope for peace. But then, about eight years ago, old enemies sat down, talked and became new partners. They figured out the best way to benefit their communities was to work together rather than continue wasting energy and resources fighting. Thus sprang forth the Freeport Regional Water Authority and this magnificent structure, which represents one of the greatest turnarounds in the storied history of California's water wars.
The Freeport Regional Water Authority consists of EBMUD and the County of Sacramento and is governed by leaders from both agencies. The Freeport Project, the single largest water supply project that Sacramento has seen in years, will provide up to 85 million gallons of water a day to Sacramento. By using the surface water from the Freeport Project, the Sacramento County Water Agency will protect its fragile groundwater basin from depletion.
But while this war has ended the proposal includes huge diversion of the Sacramento River through two tunnels under the delta, is sure to anger Bay-Delta farmers/dwellers. The idea is to move the diversion point from its current locations near Trace to points further upstream, killing fewer fish as water is moved south. The five intakes would pump 3,000 cubic feet per second - - enough to fill Olympic pools every five minute and change the river forever.
For the East Bay Municipal Utility District, headquartered in Oakland, the project guarantees a dry year supply of up to 100 million gallons a day to guard against a harsh drought. EBMUD's part of the project is near complete and it could serve its customers as soon as this summer if needed. Sacramento will complete work on its water treatment plant and will be ready to serve its customers in 2011. Ultimately, the Freeport Project will serve more than 300,000 customers in central Sacramento County.