After decades of starts and stops, dredging the 46-mi Sacramento Deep Water Ship Channel to a depth of 35 ft could begin in 2011 now that $12.5 million has been appropriated in President Obama�s budget as a down payment on what could be an $80 million project.

Susan Ma, project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, says a draft EIR will be released this year with construction scheduled to begin in fall of 2011.

The project will require removing 8 million cubic yards of silt and clay sludge using a cutter head suction dredge barge for upland placement where fill is needed for levee improvements.

The current 30-ft depth of the channel leading to the Port of West Sacramento limits the type of cargo ships that can make the trip. That could limit the effectiveness of a container barge service recently initiated between the ports of West Sacramento, Stockton and Oakland with help from a $30 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant.

A similar project was started in 1989, but abandoned due to the presence of utility lines running across the channel. Three sets of Pacific Gas & Electric gas pipelines varying from 10 in. to 26 in. diameter and an electric cable cross the streambed, blocking the excavation path.

Brian Swanson, a spokesperson at PG&E, confirmed that the utility has engaged an environmental engineering consultant to begin reviewing options for burying the utilities deeper in the streambed.

Plans currently call for using a horizontal direct drill mounted on the shore to create an entrance and exit site then horizontally drilling a path for a new pipeline. That will be spliced and welded to the active line. Pieces blocking the channel will be removed and the remainder slurried and abandoned. One of the lines may be low enough that it can be protected in place.

�The timeline depends on permitting,� says Swanson.

�In a perfect permitting world,� approvals will be acquired this year, PG&E will relocate in 2011 and the streambed work will begin in 2012, says the Corps� Ma.

In addition to the deepening, the channel could be widened at some points to make room for increased traffic, Ma says.