Antioch is called the Gateway to the Delta, but the East Contra Costa city is at "ground zero" as far as water quality is concerned.

As the state is in the midst of taking comments on environmental documents for Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to build two tunnels to move Sacramento River water south, a forum is set this week to bring concerned residents in the "Lower Delta" region up to speed on the plan.

The $24.7 billion proposal -- which could cost at least twice that amount when factoring in financing and debt costs -- is widely opposed around the Delta communities, as critics say the tunnels would reduce freshwater flows, endanger fish and other habitat and put a sizable financial dent in local agriculture.

According to the state, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan meets a pair of long-term goals: enhancing the Delta's long-term ecological health and improving water supply reliability for 25 million Californians and San Joaquin Valley farms.

Thursday's forum, hosted by Stockton-based Restore The Delta, is more focused on the western part of the Delta as many residents in Antioch don't realize the tunnels' potential effects, particularly to the city's water quality, said lifelong resident Mark DiMercurio.

"People have to realize this thing is moving forward. There's a need to educate as much as we can and give more exposure," said DiMercurio, a local real estate agent.


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Antioch is unique compared with other Delta cities in that it has rights dating back to before 1914 that allow it to draw water from the San Joaquin River without the need for a state permit. Over the years, however, its once-fresh water has become saltier as state and federal agencies moved water from the region to Southern California.

Antioch's position is not for or against the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, but rather that it "is made whole" with any impacts to water reliability and quality, costs and recreational uses if and when the project is complete, said Public Works Director Ron Bernal.

"If they can't assure that, then we would be against it," he said.

A Feb. 6 letter from the city criticized the modeling work used for the plan, saying it overstated the benefits and understated the degradation of water quality. It also ignores questions of water reliability caused by drought, the letter said.

This year's drought has made the raw water Antioch pumps undrinkable because of higher levels of salinity, Bernal said. Antioch has had to use raw water exclusively from the Contra Costa Water District, and tap into its reverse fund to cover the additional cost, he said.

According to the plan's environmental documents, there would be an increase in the concentration of bromide in the Antioch area of about 51 percent, along with, salinity levels, chloride and mercury.

Early estimates indicate the cost to Antioch ratepayers to treat the saltier water could increase by $4 million each year.

Speakers at Thursday's foruminclude Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla of Stockton-based Restore the Delta, Contra Costa County Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho of Discovery Bay and state Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley.

Frazier held a Feb. 12 hearing to look at economic oversight of the plan. Afterward, he proposed a bill that would require legislative approval before the construction of any Delta tunnel or water conveyance system.

"We need to make sure there is proper oversight of this project," Frazier said.

Like many state legislators in the Delta region, Frazier is opposed to the plan.

"It would be spending billions on a project that doesn't increase the state's water supply or give more reliability," he said.

Additionally, it would place a burden of debt on water contractors, meaning that could not invest in projects that promote self-reliance, Frazier said.

The deadline for comments on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan's environmental documents has been extended to June 13. Officials emphasize that no decision has been made by state and federal agencies about moving forward with the project.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.

IF YOU GO:
What: Forum on Bay Delta Conservation Plan and impacts on "Lower Delta" water quality
When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Lone Tree Golf Course and Event Center, 4800 Golf Course Road
Information: To find out about the forum, email stina@restorethedelta.org. For more on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, visit www.baydeltaconservationplan.com.