[env-trinity] Congressman George Miller's OpEd in SF Chron 1 7 09

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Thu Jan 8 09:33:30 PST 2009

cid:image001.jpg at 01C9717B.76B4B440


In the drying West, dams are no longer the answer

George Miller

Thursday, January 8, 2009

In the 1960s, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began planning a reservoir on
the American River, hoping it would become a major element of California's
extensive system of dams and canals that ships water across the state. The
bureau studied the proposal, to be called Auburn Dam, for decades only to
find the dam would cost $10 billion to construct - if it ever survived
environmental review and if earthquakes didn't render the site useless in
the interim. This fall, the State of California finally revoked the federal
government's unused water right for the project. Ultimately, the Bureau of
Reclamation spent more than 40 years and $300 million studying a dam that
would never be built and would never deliver a drop of water. 

The Auburn Dam boondoggle is not an outlier. The Bureau of Reclamation is a
billion-dollar-a-year water management agency created for a different era,
when our nation had different needs. Enormous water infrastructure projects
like dams and reservoirs once drove agricultural and urban development, but
no longer. Today, the serious water challenges facing the American West have
been exacerbated by climate change, and the largest water manager in the
country hasn't adapted. The Bureau of Reclamation has constantly convinced
themselves that building one more big dam - or one more canal - would
finally solve our water problems. 

In some cases, reservoirs help to meet our new water needs, but such
expensive and time-consuming projects only make sense in the context of an
agency that follows the science and the law, is a wise steward of the
resource, and promotes cost-effective solutions. It's hard to say that the
Bureau of Reclamation is that agency, and to remain relevant in the coming
years the agency will have to reinvent itself. 

President-elect Barack Obama has articulated a clear and compelling vision
of a government that, in sharp contrast to the last eight years, addresses
real-world problems. As he said last month, "This isn't about big government
or small government. It's about building a smarter government that focuses
on what works." 

Smart government, when it comes to supplying water to cities, farms and the
environment in the 21st century, will mean leaving behind the dam-building
and pipeline-laying federal bureaucracy of the last hundred years. If we put
our money into proven and cost-effective strategies like groundwater cleanup
and better coordination between reservoirs, then we can dramatically improve
the reliability of our existing clean water supplies without wasting time
and energy chasing the cumbersome and expensive infrastructure dreams of the
past century. 

Instead of spending time and money we can't afford to study dams that will
never be built, the federal government should work with local water managers
who have cost-effective plans to stretch their existing water supplies. In
the city of Pittsburg, in my congressional district, and in other parts of
the Bay Area, for example, water managers are actively pursuing alternative
water supplies through water recycling, where wastewater is treated and the
clean result is reused for commercial irrigation and industrial processes.
This allows us to add water to the system - quickly, reliably and without
causing environmental damage or depending on increasingly unreliable
snowpack. Congress authorized the San Francisco Bay Area Regional Water
Recycling Program last year, which will pump nearly $30 million in federal
seed money into the system that will be matched many times over by local
entities. Congress will be pursuing similar efforts in the years to come.

Under the Bush administration, the Bureau of Reclamation fought these
proposals every step of the way. 

Federal agencies also need to do much more to help businesses, farms and
cities adjust to a new, more water-constrained future by becoming more
efficient. California has already proved it can rise to such a challenge
with energy use: We use 40 percent less electricity per capita than the
national average, and a recent UC Berkeley study found that our investments
in energy efficiency have created more than a million jobs while saving
Californians $56 billion in energy costs. We can take that model and apply
it to our world of water. 

Significantly improving the water-use efficiency of major appliances and
fixtures could save billions of gallons of water per day, yet today there
are no tax incentives targeted specifically at water conservation. Expanded
federal incentives, improved research and development, and stronger federal
efficiency requirements can help us reduce our reliance on dwindling or
unstable water supplies, while driving innovation, saving money and adding
to the economy. 

Now is the time to have a serious conversation about whether we will still
need a $1 billion-a-year federal dam construction and water management
agency in the 21st century. The president-elect and his team clearly
understand the challenges posed by a warming and more variable climate, and
they recognize that a smarter government can help America meet its
challenges. It's time to insist that an old bureaucracy learn new tricks so
that we can meet our clean water needs without breaking the bank or wreaking
havoc on our natural waterways. 

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, is a member of the House Democratic
Leadership and the former chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.



Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land

415 519 4810 cell

 <mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net

 <mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org

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