Letters for November 24, 2005

Excellent Didion, excellent review

Re “First, last, always” by Kel Munger (SN&R Words, November 17):

I normally don’t read SN&R, but I am taking my nephew to see the latest Harry Potter movie this week and wanted to read your paper’s review of the movie.

I am glad to say I also read your review of Joan Didion’s new book, The Year of Magical Thinking. She is a wonderful writer. Her writing has clarity and honesty. I am never disappointed in her books. My favorite is Slouching Towards Bethlehem, but I haven’t read the new one yet.

The review of her latest book was wonderful to read. It made me (a devoted fan anyway) want to run out and buy the new book. Kel Munger makes some very astute observations (“logocentric bibliophile” and “questioning premises”). I enjoyed the article with my morning joe.

Keep up the excellent work. I look forward to scanning SN&R for any future articles written by Munger.

Alisa C. Tell

If democracy looks like this, give him a blindfold

Re “This is what democracy looks like” (SN&R Bites, November 10):

Does Bites actually believe—even jokingly—that the picture of the grotesque and sagging bovine mammaries and hairy armpits of Sherry Glazer, one of the whacked-out members of Breasts Not Bombs, is something anyone would actually enjoy? I know SN&R has very low standards of beauty, considering what most liberal babes look like, but even for you guys, these obese and hairy barnyard honeys should be a strong argument for restrictions of certain First Amendment rights.

Fred Cianci

Questioning the dam facts

Re “Dam irresponsible” by Tony Finnerty and Jimmy L. Spearow (SN&R Essay, November 3):

What an appropriate title for that article—and its authors.

I looked up all the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) articles cited in this article, and they don’t say anything close to what the authors claim.

For instance, the cited USGS article “Reservoir-induced Seismicity,” says the 1975 Oroville 5.7 quake may or may not have been caused by the filling of the Oroville reservoir. Since it occurred miles away and 10 years after the filling of that dam, it may only be a coincidence. And because of that quake, which didn’t cause any damage to the Oroville dam by the way, the Auburn dam was redesigned to withstand a quake eight times more powerful than the Oroville quake.

The USGS article goes on to say:

“We recognize there are questions and uncertainties in quantifying this hazard. Aside from Oroville, which may have had reservoir-induced seismicity, there are six existing large dams in the Sierran foothills that have the height and reservoir volume necessary to place them in the worldwide classification of dams that have the potential to produce reservoir induced seismicity. These dams and their construction dates are Folsom (1956), Pardee (1929), New Bullards Bar (1970), New Don Pedro (1970), New Exchequer (1966), and New Melones (1978). Since the late 1970s these dams have experienced several major episodes of drawdown and filling associated with drought and flood cycles. Between 1978 and 1994 the seismic network operating in the Sierran foothills has not recorded the occurrence of any earthquakes of M24 in this region and there is no obvious association between recorded seismicity and these large dams.”

All seven of these dam sites are within the Bear-Melones en-echelon fault-zone area. Your authors didn’t want to mention any of that because it ruins their cute little theory. That’s what’s “dam irresponsible.”

It’s a “dam shame,” too, because the real “Katrina-like” threat to Sacramento is from an ordinary flood. According to the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA) Web site (at www.safca.org/floodRisk), the worst recent flood was in 1986. SAFCA says it was caused by 10 inches of rain in Sacramento in 11 days. Last month, parts of the East Coast got 10 inches of rain in one day. Don’t say it can’t happen here.

So, which is more threatening, one of these Sacramento floods, which happen every 10 years or so, or a pseudo-science-possible-dam-induced earthquake on a fault that moves once every 100 million years?

Maybe your authors should come clean and just admit they’re “Friends of the River Rafters” and don’t care if Sacramento floods. At least they can still go kayaking.

Bob Schubert

The authors respond: Many details in our article were dropped because of space constraints. In addition to the USGS studies cited, Tony Finnerty compiled a 62-page review of seismic studies at the Auburn dam site in 1990. This document is not currently available on the Web.

The risk of reservoir-induced seismicity (RIS) depends mostly on reservoir depth, proximity to an already-stressed fault, and loading and unloading of faults as the reservoir level changes. Waters behind the Auburn dam would be much deeper than most of the dams Mr. Schubert listed, would extend over strands of a fault system proven active by the Oroville quake and would fluctuate dramatically in depth with the season.

Geotechnical studies summarized in the 1990 report also show microquakes centered only six miles from the dam site, with elevation changes of 1 to 3 inches per 10 years. This means the fault system at the Auburn dam is already stressed. All the conditions associated with reservoir-induced quakes will be present if the Auburn dam is built.

The region between the Bear Mountain and Melones fault zones that contains the dams Mr. Schubert cited ranges from 20 to 40 miles wide and is crosscut by en-echelon faults that are separated by many miles. There is plenty of space, miles from faults, where dams have been built without threat from nearby quakes. The Auburn dam site, however, is located right on top of one of the bounding faults of this system that is known to be active.

We are not opposed to dams. In fact, we favor raising Folsom Dam and improving levees to give Sacramento protection from 200-year-storm floods. A 400-year flood would affect little more area than a 100- or 200-year flood, so the much greater cost of the Auburn dam is not justified.

We are very concerned that a sudden, turbulent, inescapable flood from the failure of the Auburn dam would be far more lethal and destructive than any imaginable storm flood, and the conditions favor a large earthquake very close to the dam. Even if a destructive quake is unlikely, the consequences if we lose our bet would be so extreme that we must not take the risk. Improve the levees and Folsom Dam. Do not threaten 900,000 Sacramentans with the Auburn dam.

Love the refuge? Thank a hunter.

Re “Hunting for refuge” (SN&R Guest comment, October 27):

Monica Engebretson of the Animal Protection Institute declares that all federal National Wildlife Refuge properties should be sanctuaries free of animal “exploitation.” She disregards the important contributions of hunters to the refuge system and wildlife conservation. Further, her notion that hunting is unsafe and somehow incompatible with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s mission is completely misguided.

Many of the lands in the National Wildlife Refuge System have been purchased through hunter-generated duck-stamp (federal stamps that all waterfowl hunters must purchase) dollars and other hunting-related fees. Pursuant to the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, hunting is legally protected as one of six “priority uses” of refuge-system lands.

Hunters play a pivotal role in wildlife conservation. Licenses and associated stamps purchased by hunters generate over $18.2 million for wildlife-conservation purposes in California each year, with an additional $5 million for California annually from the federal Pittman-Robertson Act, an excise tax earmarked for habitat conservation on the sale of all sporting arms, ammunition, archery equipment and handguns. These funds are even more crucial for managing state wild lands in these current times of severe budget deficits.

Hunting is also a prime motivation for the conservation of our remaining wetlands. More than 60 percent of California’s remaining wetlands are privately owned and operated as duck clubs. These areas, which generally allow hunting for ducks a few days each week during duck season, provide critical habitat for a variety of species (including many threatened and endangered species) year-round.

Hikers and birdwatchers have nothing to fear from hunting. According to the California Department of Fish and Game, hunting is among the safest outdoor recreational pursuits, with only a few accidents per year and rarely a fatality. Hunters must complete a rigorous 10-hour safety course and pass an exam prior to obtaining their licenses.

Hunting is only allowed on a portion of refuges in clearly defined areas, and hunters typically pay a daily or annual fee to access refuge lands, whereas other users usually enjoy free access.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does a commendable job carrying out its mission to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants for the benefit of all Americans, including hunters and anglers. However, much of its important work would not be possible without the financial and volunteer support of America’s sportsmen and women.

Bill Gaines
director of government affairs, California Waterfowl Association


Re “Is silence golden?” by Mary Ann Swissler (SN&R News November 3):

Nick Guroff should have been identified as a consultant for the group National Environmental Trust.