July 14, 2008

Crews Excavating Tons of Sand for All American Canal Lining

By Joyce Lobeck, The Sun, Yuma, Ariz.

Jul. 14--Shape-shifters in the form of huge, lumbering earth movers have been busily at work on the dunes west of Yuma a year into a massive project on the All American Canal.

The project includes construction of a 23-mile concrete-lined segment of the All American Canal to run parallel to the existing earthen canal stretching from a mile west of Pilot Knob to Drop 3.

A reservoir also is being constructed near Gordon's Well to hold about 8,000 acre-feet of water, mainly to regulate the lower Colorado River operation.

It is considered one of the largest water conservation programs in the nation, said Kevin Kelley, spokesman for Imperial Irrigation District, which operates the canal under a contract with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Built in the 1930s, the All American Canal runs adjacent to the international border in Southern California, carrying about 3.1 million acre-feet of water a year from the Colorado River to the Imperial Valley.

Replacement of the 23-mile eastern segment of earthen canal with the lined canal is expected to save 67,700 acre-feet of water a year. That would be enough water to supply the annual needs of about 500,000 people in Southern California.

That segment of the 82-mile canal was selected for the work because it winds across the sand dunes, resulting in substantial water loss from seepage through the sandy soil.

"That's the section with the greatest identifiable seepage," Kelley said.

Work began on the project in July 2007. Kelley said it's now about one-fourth finished and is expected to be completed in the fall of 2010 at a cost of about $285 million.

Funding for the project's two phases is being provided by the state of California, the San Diego Water Authority, the Metropolitan Water District, Southern Nevada Water District and the Central Arizona Project.

Two contractors are working simultaneously on different sections of the canal, Kelley said: Kiewit Corp., with a staging area near Sidewinder Road, is working on the stretch closer to Yuma; Ames Caufman is working near Gordon's Well.

About 30 million cubic yards of sand will be excavated, followed by the concrete lining operation.

Once the new canal becomes functional, the old waterway will be kept for habitat and future water storage, Kelley said.

The project was delayed a year because of legal challenges issued by environmentalists and businesses on both sides of the border. They claimed that the seepage from the canal was a vital water source for the Mexicali Valley aquifer.

Congress passed legislation (HR 6111) in December 2006 to start the project "without delay." The president signed the bill that same month, and the Ninth Circuit Court lifted its injunction on the project based on the federal legislation.

The All American Canal project is considered a critical component of the Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement signed in 2003. The multistate water pact calls for California to scale back its use of Colorado River water to live within its allocation of 4.4 million acre-feet.

Of that allocation, Imperial Irrigation District is entitled to up to 3.1 million acre-feet, of which the vast majority is used for agriculture. Water saved through the canal project will help ensure a reliable water supply for the region in years to come.


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