California water: It’s about the storage stupid
Two weeks ago, President Obama visited the drought-stricken Central Valley of California. He announced his administration’s response: He wants to spend another billion dollars to study climate change.
I can save him the trouble. The planet has been warming – on and off – since the last ice age, when glaciers covered much of North America. The climate has been changing since the planet formed, often much more abruptly than it has in recent millennia.
Until the earth begins moving into its next ice age, we can reasonably expect it to continue to warm. That will mean less water can be stored in snow packs and therefore more will need to be stored behind dams.
There, I just saved a billion dollars.
Everyone thinks that the Colorado River is the mother lode of all water in the Western United States, but the Colorado is a junior sister to the mighty Sacramento River system. The difference is that we store 70 million acre feet of water on the Colorado and only 10 million acre feet on the Sacramento.
Droughts are nature’s fault and they are beyond our control. Water shortages, on the other hand, are our fault.
We have not built major water storage on the Sacramento system since 1979 because of opposition from the environmental left, and most recently from this administration.
Indeed, we have had to fight back against its attempts to destroy perfectly good existing dams, including four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River.
Even in years of plenty, this administration has insisted on diverting 200 billion gallons of water from Central Valley agriculture for the amusement of the Delta smelt, devastating the economy, drying up a quarter million acres of fertile farmland and throwing thousands of Californians into unemployment.
Because of opposition from the environmental left, we have been unable even to raise the spillway at the Exchequer dam by ten lousy feet in order to add 70,000 acre feet of storage at Lake McClure.
Because of radical environmental regulations, 800,000 acre feet of desperately needed water – that’s a 1-acre column of water 150 miles deep — was drained from Shasta, Oroville and Folsom lakes last fall —knowing full well that we were heading into a potentially catastrophic drought.
Gov. Brown proposes to spend $14 billion for cross-Delta tunnels that will produce exactly zero additional storage and exactly zero additional hydroelectricity.
Yet for a fraction of that cost — roughly $6 billion — we could complete the Shasta Dam to its design elevation, meaning 9 million acre feet of additional water storage — nearly doubling the capacity of the Sacramento River system.
Everyone has seen the eerie pictures of Folsom Dam as its lake lay almost completely empty. For just a few billion dollars, we could complete the Auburn Dam, upriver of the Folsom, that would hold enough water to fill and refill Folsom Lake nearly 2 ½ times. That’s in addition to 800 megawatts of electricity for the region and 400-year flood protection for the Sacramento Delta. The fortune we are currently spending on Delta levee repairs is to protect against a 200-year flood.
Enough is enough.
We are at a crossroads and it is time to choose between two very different visions of water policy.
One is the nihilistic vision of the environmental left: increasingly severe government-induced shortages, higher and higher electricity and water prices, massive taxpayer subsidies to politically well-connected and favored industries, and a permanently declining quality of life for our children, who will be required to stretch and ration every drop of water and every watt of electricity in their bleak and dimly lit homes.
The other is a vision of abundance, a new era of clean and cheap and plentiful hydroelectricity; great new reservoirs to store water in wet years to assure abundance in dry ones; a future in which families can enjoy the prosperity that abundant water and electricity provide, and the quality of life that comes from that prosperity. It is a society whose children can look forward to a green lawn, a backyard garden, a family swimming pool, affordable air-conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter, brightly lit homes and cities and abundant and affordable groceries from America’s agricultural cornucopia.
Tom McCintock, R-Elk Grove, represents the 4th Congressional District.