Too dammed expensive

Taxpayers are in no mood to pay for more water storage

There’s nothing like a wet winter and a deep snowpack to get some folks clamoring for more dams and storage facilities in California. All that water running into the Pacific Ocean is being wasted, they insist. What good is it if we can’t use it?

Well, ask the fish, especially those that live in or move through the Delta, like salmon. They’re enjoying the cold, clean water. For the past several years water flows have been low, slow and warm. This is a bracing change.

Watching all that water flow out to sea drives Tom McClintock crazy. He’s the Republican congressman who represents the 4th District, which includes Oroville, and he chairs the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Water and Power. Although he touts himself as a fiscal conservative, McClintock took the seat promising to build more dams, and that’s what he’s trying to do, beginning with the controversial Auburn Dam. Never mind that it would sit astride an earthquake fault and cost up to $10 billion.

That’s one of the problems with dams: They’re hugely expensive. It would cost as much as $1 billion to raise Shasta Dam just six feet—and that of course wouldn’t guarantee sufficient river flow to make the additional height useful. The proposed Sites Reservoir in western Colusa County, which would impound Sacramento River water, would cost more than $3 billion.

There’s no way to build these dams without massive taxpayer subsidies. In today’s tight times, that’s not going to happen.

There are alternatives. For example, we could increase the amount of groundwater recharge in areas where aquifers have been depleted. This is especially true in Southern California, where there are numerous recharge areas to which runoff water could be directed. And we could organize California’s water delivery system to be more efficient by conserving more and planting only annual crops in areas where water deliveries vary from year to year.

But dams? No way.