OAKLEY -- A canal project here is expected to save water, provide customers with a fresher supply and do it safely.
Contra Costa Water District has had contractors working since last fall on burying a large section of the canal that runs through Oakley, thereby reducing water salinity, eliminating evaporation and preventing drownings.
Construction on this second phase of a five-stage project that began in 2008 is expected to be done by May 2015 and will cost an estimated $20 million, half of which the state Department of Water Resources will fund.
Work is focused on a 5,600-foot stretch of the canal from just west of Monet Drive to Sellers Avenue.
Crews have drained that portion and now are digging a trench in which they will lay 10-foot-diameter pipes that will connect with the ones that were installed west of Marsh Creek during the first segment of the project.
Once the conduits are in the ground, they will refill the trench with the excavated dirt, covering what is now an open waterway.
Containing the canal water in pipes will prevent saline groundwater from seeping through its earthen walls and mixing with the relatively fresh Delta water, CCWD spokesman Oliver Symonds said.
"This will definitely improve the water quality. It will improve taste and odors for our customers," he said.
In addition, the water district won't lose the water it buys to evaporation.
"It's not a huge amount of water but it's not inconsequential either," said Lucinda Shih, senior water resources specialist.
As for safety, water that's flowing underground doesn't pose a risk; three people have died in Contra Costa Water District's canal over the past two years, two of them drowning victims, Symonds said.
But progress sometimes has its price, as Roland Wade discovered in June when the backhoes swung into action.
The Monet Drive resident said that on windy days, dust from the large piles of dirt across the street settled on his car and in the swimming pool, where it clogged the filter, as well as became embedded in the stucco.
"The front of the house was just filth," Wade said, noting there are still dark stains under the second-story windows.
Wade also blames the multiple backhoes slamming their buckets onto the ground for enlarging hairline cracks in the cement around his pool.
"Every time it hit the ground, you could feel it," he said.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.