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FOR Logo Friends of the River
 The voice of California's rivers
Three years of drought have reduced available water supplies and required water agencies to limit water use. Governor Jerry Brown and Senator Dianne Feinstein are pushing for public funding of new dams to solve California water problems. As many as five competing water bond bills - proposing billions of dollars to build new dams and raise existing dams - were being considered by the California Legislature. The bond that ultimately was approved by the Legislature has been placed on the 2014 general election ballot for voters to decide.
But isn't there is a drought?
Yes. However, government and private studies alike prove that California can meet its current and future water needs through cost-effective investments in water conservation, efficiency, recycling, and ecologically sound groundwater management, all without building new dams. As a practical matter, any new dams funded by a water bond will not be built for a decade or more, so none of the prospective dams will address our current drought problems.
Won't dams provide more water?
Not as much as you think or dam proponents claim. Dam building in California is limited by diminishing returns. We have more than 1,250 dams in this state, already located at all the most cost effective and storage-efficient sites. Many rivers in California all but dry because we have built so many dams that store and divert water upstream. Many of our existing major reservoirs do not fill, even in normal water years because most watersheds have multiple dams capturing all the available water. Realistically, building more dams will only capture additional water during heavy rainfall years, which may become less predictable due to global warming.
What would a Water Bond cost me?
New bond-funded dams will cost the state taxpayers billions of dollars. Taxpayers annually pay on the principal and interest for sold bonds. Over its 30-year lifetime, a $7 billion bond will cost up to almost $15 billion, with an annual debt service paid by the taxpayers of about $500 million. The taxpayer-paid interest on state bond sales will be high because California currently has a poor bond rating due to debt and boom-bust budget cycles. The bond (Prop 1)  requires the money for building new dams (up to $2.7 billion) to be continuously appropriated. This means that the annual debt service will be paid off the top of the state budget, before public education, health, and safety. Local water agencies (including water districts that may provide you with drinking water) and the federal government are expected to pay the rest of the cost. This means that taxpayers will pay for these dams through local water bills and through state and federal taxes. Some of the bond bills propose a water use fee to help recover the cost of the dams, but it is unclear how and to whom this fee will be applied, and whether it will cover all the costs.
What new dams are they talking about?
  • Shasta Dam raise on the Sacramento River,
  • the Sites Offstream Storage Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley,
  • storing water in Delta islands,
  • expanding the Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County, and
  • building the Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River.
The proposed water bonds in the Legislature would provide $2.7 billion in seed money to fund these projects.
Wouldn't there be good programs funded in the Water Bond?
Yes there are. The water bond will apply millions of dollars to water efficiency and recycling, ground water management, water quality improvement, safe drinking water, and watershed restoration. But the largest single chunk of bond money is reserved for water storage, including storage provided by new dams and enlarged reservoirs. For Californian's to approve a bond, it should be considerably less costly and focus primarily on those cost-effective programs that provide immediate drought relief and long term regional self-sufficiency (no new dams).
Still have questions?  Email us.  We will find the answer, get back to you, and post online for others.
Return to Campaign Main Page * New Dams vs. Conservation

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