[env-trinity] Redding.com Editorial: Delta tunnels stoke bipartisan talk of reservoirs

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Tue Jun 4 15:25:44 PDT 2013


Editorial: Delta tunnels stoke bipartisan talk of reservoirs
Staff Reports

Saturday, June 1, 2013

They’ve been studying the expansion of Shasta Dam for so long that it can sometimes seem the purpose is to generate paperwork instead of new water storage, but a billion-dollar political consensus seems to be gelling around a bigger reservoir with a dam 18 feet higher.

The motivation? The still-bigger water project in the works 200 miles downstream.

The final chapters of an environmental impact report on the nearly $25 billion Bay Delta Conservation Plan — the long-standing push, embraced by Gov. Jerry Brown, to divert Sacramento River water around the delta and shore up the state’s water system were released last week. In response, a clutch of Democratic members of Congress from Northern California were quick to denounce the plan.

The governor’s tunnels, they argued, would dewater and destroy the delta. They’d imperil the livelihoods of Northern California’s farmers and fishers. They’d wreck the environment. The whole scheme was dreamed up by a handful of high-powered water interests who didn’t welcome all “stakeholders” — especially from the north state — to the table.

But what about the congressman who represents the largest swath of Northern California and much of the Sacramento River? Rep. Doug LaMalfa wasn’t rushing to call any press conferences.

But opinions about water he does have, and he was happy to share them when asked.

His bottom line: Improving how the state moves water, without taking steps to ensure there’s more available, is misguided. Increasing flows through the delta for environmental purposes and moving more water south through the tunnels can only put pressure on northern water. That’s the math.

“A key component would be to add water storage to make any Bay-Delta plan work,” he said.

What does that mean? Enlarging Shasta Dam? Building the long-planned Sites Reservoir in Colusa County?

Those are certainly possibilities, said LaMalfa, and just a start. He further suggested reviving scuttled ideas like the Auburn Dam and the Cottonwood Creek dams, and even dusting off playbooks from the Bureau of Reclamation’s concrete-pouring heyday.

“There were a lot of projects on the books in the 50s and 60s in the pre-planning,” he said. “At the time we didn’t need the water, so they didn’t go anywhere.”

Beyond just new reservoirs, though, he suggested that desalination in urban areas could decrease the pressure on water elsewhere, “and on the scale you’re talking for urban pricing it might make sense.”

LaMalfa said he and fellow House Republicans from California expect to unveil a comprehensive water plan of their own later this year.

It’s a funny thing, though. As much as the priorities and politics of LaMalfa and his Democratic rivals might vary, to an extent they’re not so very far apart on water — at least on the more realistic projects.

Rep. John Garamendi, a Democrat who represents the southern Sacramento Valley and the delta and is a vocal opponent of the peripheral tunnels, released his own water plan this spring. It emphasizes conservation and water recycling — but also suggests a major investment in new reservoirs. And it doesn’t ignore the top of California.

“Raising Shasta Dam is also possible,” his plan notes while outlining possibilities, “as is better conjunctive management of the many aquifers in the Sacramento Valley.” Conjunctive management means more pumping of groundwater — theoretically refreshed through winter rains — to supplement supplies, much as the Anderson-Cottonwood Irrigation District recently decided to do as part of a water sale to San Joaquin Valley farmers.

All of the attention in California these days is on Brown’s tunnels, which are expensive enough, but that project is provoking renewed will for other major water investments. That sure makes a billion-dollar construction project up at Lake Shasta — with all the jobs and the disruption that entails — look far more likely. It also means we can expect far more controversy over wheeling and dealing in groundwater.

There’s a widespread sense that, if the peripheral tunnels are built, water interests south of the delta will grab the north state’s water. No less a side effect, though, will be a renewed push to build reservoirs and make use of every spare drop. And that wouldn’t only replumb the far-away delta, but also change the landscape of Shasta County.

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