SACRAMENTO-SAN JOAQUIN DELTA (KCBS) – While the main focus of California Governor Jerry Brown’s executive order on the drought is the imposing of mandatory water restrictions of 25 percent, it also streamlines the process to install emergency salinity barriers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

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The controversial barriers have been under discussion for years. “By placing these rock barriers, we can limit the amount of water that we have to release from our upstream reservoirs,” said Mark Cowin, Director of the California Department of Water Resources.

FULL TEXT: Initial Study Of Emergency Drought Barrier Project For Delta

The barriers are meant to limit saltwater intrusion and minimize the amount of water that must be released from upstream reservoirs to repel the salt. The concern is that too much saltwater in the Delta can contaminate water supplies for residents in Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara counties, along with Delta residents and the 25 million Californians who rely on Delta-based water projects.

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Cowin said the barriers almost went in last year, before some late rains hit the region. “They do come with impacts to fish and with impacts to water users that are on the wrong side of the barrier,” he said.

Extensive environmental analysis has led the Department of Water Resources to conclude that the potential installation of the barriers does not require a full environmental impact report under the California Environmental Quality Act.

“We’ll be working closely with the department to weigh all the analysis, consider pros and cons. And make no mistake, there are pros and cons,” said Chuck Bonham, Director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Bonham said holding freshwater in higher reserves upstream could actually be good for winter run chinook salmon for example.

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If approved, construction on the temporary rock barriers at the three sites, Sutter Slough, Steamboat Slough, and West False River, could begin as early as May.