Two dams or not two dams: California’s crucial water decision

Actually, three dams is more accurate, but the team is always willing to sacrifice accuracy in the service of a cute headline. The point is that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose name and title make us wish we were being paid by the letter, is proposing the construction of two new dams and expanding the capacity of a third to meet what will soon be the state’s desperate need for water.

This San Francisco Chronicle article is as good a summary of the current debate about California’s water dilemma as you are going to find, and is accompanied by links to some good water-related resources.

Nut graf:

The governor wants to build two new dams and expand the reservoir of a third as a key element in his plan to meet future water needs of the state’s growing population. But environmentalists say two of the projects would be net energy users and that the three of them together would add energy consumption to a water-delivery system that is already the state’s largest consumer of electricity.

The problem with the environmentalist’s argument is that it is complicated and complicated generally doesn’t sell in the Golden State. Their objections are based at looking at long term consequences of using huge basins of water as storage, and takes into account, for example, increased evaporation caused by global warming and the possibility that the two new dams would produce a net energy loss for the state.

For the most compelling aspect of the environmentalists’ approach is encouraging the development new regional water supplies–including water recycling, conservation, groundwater protection, groundwater cleanup and stormwater capture–which could recoup huge amounts of water and avoid the need to pump water throughout the state from central repositories.

Boooring! The governator and the republicans in the legislature keep it simple: Dams=Storage. What is wrong with storage? What is up with these fuzzy thinking liberal environmentalists who don’t understand storage? If you want to keep something for a long time, you store it. Dams store water. Duh.

This counterpoint from an article by Gary Patton, the executive director of the Planning and Conservation League, posted on the California Progress Report, a progressive online news site. (Caveat: He cites the construction of three dams; the proposal is to build two new dams and expand one that already exists.)

The Governor’s proposed $9.085 billion water bond measure directs billions of taxpayer dollars to projects that will take decades to implement and will produce relatively little water.

This proposal would inappropriately allocate $5.1 billion for construction of three costly and damaging dams. While state and federal agencies have studied these dams for years, not one of these dams has been proven to be cost-effective or environmentally acceptable. In fact, state and federal agencies have not been able to find even one willing local partner to contract for the resulting water at the anticipated cost. Taxpayers should not be asked to subsidize projects that so obviously fail the cost-effectiveness test.’s hit? Torpedo* the dams and full speed ahead for innovative and environmentally sound approaches to solving California’s imminent water crisis.

*figurative language


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