Point Positive: Water Solutions that Protect Our Rivers
We have always seesawed between periods of drought and extreme precipitation that can lead to biblical flooding in California. Climate change is making these shifts increasingly severe. Relying on 20th century thinking, like building new dams, simply doesn’t work anymore. We built a vast network of more than 1,400 dams over the last century. Building more would do very little to reduce flood risk or increase water supply, but it would add billions of dollars of debt for the next generation and destroy rivers. We can’t dam our way to paradise.
We must protect our remaining free flowing rivers and advance innovative water solutions that are more environmentally sound, economically efficient and yield meaningful amounts of water for all Californians. To ensure a safe and reliable water system that protects communities and the rivers that flow through them FOR launched our Point Positive campaign to promote innovative, 21st century water solutions that diversify our water system and work with nature instead of against it.
WHY DAMS AREN’T THE SOLUTION
Unfortunately, planning is currently underway for several proposed surface water storage projects throughout the state, and they are lining up for taxpayer subsidies.
The six most discussed and promoted projects include:
- Raising Shasta Dam on the Sacramento River to enlarge the state’s largest reservoir
- Sites reservoir to hold water diverted from the Sacramento River.
- Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River.
- Expanding Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa to hold water diverted from the San Francisco Bay-Delta.
- Expanding San Luis Reservoir on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley to hold water diverted from the San Francisco Bay-Delta.
- Centennial Dam on the Bear River.
These dam projects will do very little to solve our water problem in California. Conversely, they absolutely would cost billions of taxpayer dollars and do immense harm to waterways along with the fish, wildlife and people that depend on them.
The Public Policy Institute of California reported in 2015 the top five dam projects above would cost roughly $9 billion, before cost overruns, to increase average annual water supply by about 134 billion gallons per year.[i] To put this in context, Californians use approximately 14 trillion gallons of water each year. Approximately 80% of that is used for agriculture and the remaining 20% is used for homes, businesses and industry. That means these new surface storage projects would add about 1% to our current average water use—an incredibly expensive drop in the bucket. Even using the high-end yield assumptions for average years from reports published by the planning agencies, these projects would still amount to an increase of less than 2% above our current use. Put another way, that water would last for less than a week—hardly a compelling drought strategy—and it would be another 10 or 20 years before these projects come online.
A More Refreshing Approach
There are literally hundreds of more modern, environmentally sustainable and economical solutions that can help us meet our current and future water needs while restoring waterways and healthy communities. Below are five more constructive solutions that meet our needs and improve our environment.
[i] Public Policy Institute of California, Water Policy Center. April 2015. Storing Water. Available online at: http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_415SWR.pdf
[ii] Heather Cooley, Juliet Christian-Smith, and Peter Gleick. The Pacific Institute. Sustaining California Agriculture in an Uncertain Future. July 2009. Available online at: http://pacinst.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2014/04/sustaining-california-agriculture-pacinst-full-report.pdf
[iii] Heal the Ocean. California Ocean Wastewater Discharge. March 2010. Available online at: http://healtheocean.org/images/ugc/uploads/misc/10-03%20California%20Ocean%20Wastewater%20Discharge%20Report%20and%20Inventory.pdf
[iv] Water Systems Optimization, Inc. Secondary Research for Water Leak Detection Program and Water System Loss Control. December 2009. Available online at: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/wat_14021401a.pdf
[v] Louis Sahagun. Los Angeles Times. DWP to build groundwater treatment plants on Superfund site. June 2013. Available online at: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jun/23/local/la-me-water-20130624
[vi] Urban Water Conservation: What’s Next for California? Timothy Brick AWE Board Secretary Urban Water Conservation Workshop State Water Resources Control Board December 17, 2014 available online at: http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/drought/docs/workshops/121714_8_brick%20presentation.pdf