3 Easy Steps: FAQ
We’ve lost 90% of our river environment?! 95% of salmon habitat? Doesn’t that mean it’s almost all gone? How can that be when I see so many beautiful rivers in California?
Large dams in the Central Valley block 95% of the historical salmon habitat. Fish can no longer get by these dams to spawn. More than 90% of the riverside habitat and adjacent wetlands have been developed or converted to agriculture. Urban streams like the Los Angeles River have been fully encased in concrete or diverted into underground tunnels to allow for maximum urban development. Riverside levees have disconnected rivers from their floodplains. This not only increases flood damages when levees fail, but it removes habitat essential for fish and wildlife and for filtering pollutants. There are 194,000 miles of rivers and streams in California. Only about 6,000 miles -- just 3% -- are considered to be free flowing and to still possess outstanding natural values.
Imagine, if you will, that salmon are like blood cells. They swim not just in the main channels but also in the many sidestreams and tributaries, all of which get flooded and destroyed by dams. While many people just see the Sacramento River from Interstae 5, most of the habitat that is destroyed is easy to overlook.
What about global warming? If we get less snow and more rain, won’t we need dams to collect that rainwater?
We don’t really know whether global warming will make California warmer and wetter or warmer and drier, or maybe it will be wetter in the south and drier in the north. Current computer models vary greatly. But experts believe that the 1,400 dams already in place on California rivers may be operated to handle any precipitation and run-off changes caused by global warming. Building multi-billion dollar new dams may be a solution to the wrong problem. Increasing the efficient use of water, expanding flood capacity by setting back levees, actively storing run-off into underground aquifers, recycling used water, reclaiming already polluted water, and increasing water use efficiency are all much cheaper ways and more environmentally beneficial ways to address the possible impacts of global warming on our water supply system.
What is cloud seeding anyway?
Picture planes releasing silver iodide or dry ice into clouds, hoping the chemicals will spur ice crystals to form and drop to the ground. Or shooting the chemicals from the ground into the clouds. Apparently it works to some extent. Read more at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_seeding
If recycling water is so efficient, why isn’t everybody doing it?
If you know that Daddy will buy you a car, why should you work hard to earn and save the money to buy it yourself? As long as taxpayers show a willingness to build multi-billion dollar dams that only benefit a few, water districts will be reluctant to require their own ratepayers to pay for local solutions like recycling and reclaiming water, and increasing water use efficiency.
Can I really save that much water by turning off the tap when I brush my teeth?
Yes. And by fixing leaks and changing the way you water your lawn. Every drop counts. Learn how much water you use and how much you can save at http://www.h2oconserve.org/
I've heard that using drip irrigation leads to salt buildup that can harm the soil. Is this true?
Actually, using too much water will cause salinity problems. Much of the irrigation water in California comes from rivers, which contain natural salts. If you put too much of this water in the ground, it can build up in the plants’ root zones, salts and all. Drip irrigation actually prevents that from happening by applying just enough water in just the right places. Salinity is quite complex, with many local factors interacting. You can learn more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salinity_control
Do you need to build dams to collect water before you store it underground?
Groundwater storage does require facilities to divert the water and temporarily store it over permeable ground so that it seeps into the aquifer. Generally, these facilities are smaller and less damaging to the environment than large surface storage dams and reservoirs. You can also use passive designs. The flood bypass system in the Sacramento Valley takes flood overflow from the Sacramento and Feather Rivers. Some of that water flows into the Delta, but quite a bit seeps into the ground. The San Joaquin has no such flood bypass system and a significant groundwater overdraft problem. The Sacramento Valley has few if any groundwater overdraft problems.
If we store water underground, who will track how much people use? If every person had their own well that tapped into the aquifer, wouldn't that lead to even greater waste?
California is a bit odd in that it really doesn’t control groundwater use. But many areas, especially in Southern California have their aquifers “adjudicated.” All the interested parties get together and agree on who can use how much water and how to monitor that. Underground storage plans could include such agreements. When Friends of the River calls for groundwater storage as one solution to our water needs, we are not advocating for the mining of natural groundwater for export to other areas. This is a distinct threat in the Sacramento Valley, where state water officials want to pump plentiful groundwater and export the water south.
Underground storage might make sense in places where the aquifers are empty, but what about wetter areas like Northern California?
Underground storage is just one solution among many. We should use it where it makes most sense. In areas like the Sacramento Valley, where the water table already is high, it honestly doesn’t make sense. Indeed, water agencies sometimes practice “conjunctive” water management. They would in essence turn the aquifer into a wildly fluctuating underground reservoir. That would create an entire set of obvious environmental problems.
Want to learn even more? Check out the references below.
- Dams cost almost 50 times as much as other solutions comes from State Water Plan 2005.
- Conservation figures taken from Pacific Institute.
- Population and households figures taken from U.S. Census Bureau State & County Quick Facts.
- Usage is based on a generous one acre foot per household per year. The Water Education Foundation says an average household uses between one-half and one acre foot per year. An acre foot equals 326,000 gallons, about enough to cover a football field with one foot of water.
- Recycling capacity taken from “Recycling Water 2030: Recommendations of California’s Water Recycling Task Force,” 2003.
- Hetch Hetchy capacity of 360,000 acre feet taken from California Department of Water Resources.