[env-trinity] SF Chronicle 09 29 09
bwl3 at comcast.net
Tue Sep 29 18:42:22 PDT 2009
Water interests argue new state dam proposals
By Kelly Zito
Thirty years ago, a chunk of chain, an eyebolt and Mark Dubois helped end
the era of big dam building in California.
Dubois, a bearded, 6-foot-8, 30-year-old river guide from Sacramento,
chained himself to a rocky outcropping on the north bank of the Stanislaus
River and stayed there for a week, determined to prevent the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers from filling the canyons behind New Melones Dam and submerging
the limestone caves, verdant meadows and petroglyphs of the river valley.
Dubois lost that fight: New Melones had been approved in the 1940s and was
well under way when he and the nascent Friends of the River got involved.
But he and hundreds of others who celebrate the 30th anniversary of the
Stanislaus Campaign next month believe their work is echoing through a new
generation as another dam debate emerges in California.
"We didn't win 30 years ago, but the world has changed," Dubois said in a
telephone interview from his home on Bainbridge Island in Washington state.
"Even though (Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger) is pushing these dams, people know
they don't make sense."
As California grapples with an aging water-delivery network, growing
population, worsening water quality, a drought and the potentially
far-reaching effects of global climate change, dams are again on the table.
Last month Schwarzenegger insisted he would not sign off on any major
overhaul of the water system without money for new dams and reservoirs.
The governor has the support of conservatives and the vast Central Valley,
where many farmers are convinced that new, man-made lakes will help offset
dry spells and ease the federal rulings that have cut water pumped through
the ailing Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
But environmentalists and their liberal backers contend dams are a costly,
ecologically dicey option set against the backdrop of California's
unprecedented budget cuts and alarms over the decline of fisheries,
waterways and water quality.
By most accounts, New Melones was not the boon promised. When federal
engineers studied the project, they far overestimated the water supply and
underestimated demand. As a result, for years much of the water has gone to
flush out the delta and to fulfill contracts in Stockton and elsewhere;
little went to local water suppliers.
"It wasn't surprising to us at all," said Steve Evans, conservation director
at Friends of the River. "New Melones was a project looking for a purpose."
The several dams under consideration do not have quite the same scenic or
recreational pull as the Stanislaus River. But memories of landscapes lost
behind dams die hard. River advocates point to the flooding of picturesque
Hetch Hetchy Valley for San Francisco's water interests and Friant Dam's
catastrophic effect on salmon in the San Joaquin River.
Dams "make sense if you don't care about taking care of the natural world,"
according to Ronald Stork, senior policy advocate for Friends of the River.
These days, however, the debate has shifted to the economics of dam
California already has upward of 1,000 dams that provide water supply, flood
control and hydropower - built on the most productive and accessible sites,
experts say. Each time another dam is added to a river, billions are spent
and the water supplied is minimal.
"We have to look further than this reflexive, historical impulse that says
building dams will solve all our problems," said Assemblyman Jared Huffman,
D-San Rafael. "It's not true. Water recycling, conservation, efficiency...
dwarf the amount of water we could get through any (reservoirs) we build."
Conservatives and their supporters however, think they've forged a
reasonable compromise that, though expensive, will add an important tool for
managing the state's water system.
"The magnitude of the problem is so enormous that we can't afford to say no
to one solution," said Chris Scheuring, environmental attorney for the
California Farm Bureau.
Scheuring's group and others stand behind three big projects they argue
would not inflict the environmental harm of past dams: The expansion of Los
Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County, the Temperance Flat dam on the
San Joaquin River above Friant Dam, and Sites Reservoir, which would flood
the Antelope Valley in Colusa County.
The $3.8 billion Sites proposal, in particular, marks a departure from the
norm because it is an off-stream reservoir that does not obstruct a river.
Through canals connected to the Sacramento River, the Department of Water
Resources says, water would be pumped into the lake where it would be used
to supplement flows into the delta or allow deeper, colder reservoirs to
hold back water for critical salmon runs.
Reservoir supporters say Sites presents the best of all worlds. And they
seem determined to ensure that Sites and similar projects make it into any
water legislation package.
"We're not going to approve another water bond package for billions that
haven't improved water reliability," said state Sen. Dave Cogdill,
R-Modesto. "These are not high dams on wild and scenic rivers. We're talking
about a very responsible approach."
Peter Gleick, president of Oakland's Pacific Institute, a nonpartisan water
think tank, acknowledges that Sites or Temperance Flat could add a certain
amount of flexibility to the system. But, he says, that slight improvement
simply isn't worth the economic, environmental and political cost.
"Many of dams we built in the last century brought us great benefit," Gleick
said. "But I think the era of new dams is over in California."
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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