The legislature is considering raising three dams and two new dams. Dams to be raisesd are Shasta, Los Vaqueros and San Luis. New dams are proposed at Temperance Flat dam and Sites dam.
Let’s analyze each on their own merits. Environmental groups will always be opposed to any dam because of the impacts to animals, plants and scenic beauty of the area. Those who favor industry and growth over the environment would argue the merits of growing more crops and having more water available for droughts.
Ignoring the environmental pros/cons, what are the other issues.
Shasta hasn’t been anywhere near full in years and years. Plus, the expansion plan would flood many of the remaining sacred sites of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe that weren’t inundated by the construction of Shasta Dam in the 1940s.
Beware of trickery here. Proponents are trying to use an environmental claim saying that expanding Shasta would increase the water available for release to help protect salmon during drought years. Sounds nice. But NOAA has already found that salmon need to go up above Shasta Dam to the McCloud because of climate change. The dam raise would flood more than 7 miles of cold water spawning grounds on the McCloud River, Squaw Creek, and the Sacramento River. Instead of a higher dam, the salmon need fish ladders installed.
Los Vaqueros Expansion
I haven’t uncovered any negatives to this project. The water is removed after flowing through the Delta at Rock Slough and north of Clifton Court Forebay. Unlike the State and Federal pumps further south, the county’s intakes have more modern fish screens plus the facility was smartly built to extract water parallel to the flowing river so fish are not harmed.
Having more water in Los Vaqueros can better serve the East Bay. If more water is available from Los Vaqueros, then Silicon Valley wouldn’t need to use San Luis water, improving regional self-reliance. Currently, Silicon Valley leaders are often heard in support of the Delta Tunnels.
San Luis Expansion
The dam is on the Ortigalita fault near the San Andreas fault. The dam needs to be shored up already to avoid earthquake issues. The requested $360 million provides only 6% more water but repairs the existing dam. The reservoir has no natural water flow – all water is from the Delta. Seems like a bad idea to me. A better idea would be to restore the Tulare Lake Basin, a huge natural lake that requires no new dams, no additional power for pumping, and would recharge the Central Valley aquifers like it use to. That would be a win-win. More on Tulare Lake below.
New Temperance Flat Dam
Temperance Flat would be on the San Joaquin River. Does the San Joaquin have any more water to give? It is already polluted from the Central Valley farms. The once millions of salmon are down to a handful. That river needs a big recycling plant built to clean up the farm water runoff and convert it back to fresh clean water for the Delta, not more water removed.
Long regarded as the most crazy dam idea in California (for over half a century, the existing dams and canals totally dried up the San Joaquin River downstream of Fresno in most years), the project to squeeze the last pittance of water from the river is enthusiastically backed by local politicians who successfully fought for billions of dollars for this dam in the 2014 California Water Bond (Proposition 1). In fact, they held the bond hostage in the California legislature until funding for the dam was made possible in the bond. See http://www.friendsoftheriver.org/site/PageServer?pagename=temperanceflat.
New Sites Dam
Sites would divert more water from the Sacramento River.
An analysis by Friends of the River reports that Significant water diversions from the Sacramento River to fill Sites Reservoir could result in substantial adverse impacts on the river’s ecosystem. Flow impacts from Sites diversions are often downplayed by proponents since they will occur during high winter flows. But current minimum flows for the Sacramento River will allow significant diversions throughout much of the year. One perfectly legal diversion scenario could take up to 67% of the average flow of the Sacramento River during the month of April.
Also, the reservoir is located in a region that naturally produces selenium and high amounts of metals and other potential pollutants. There also could be abandoned mercury mines in the reservoir footprint. Definitely sounds like a bad idea to me.
Restore Tulare Lake
Instead of raising Shasta and San Luis and building Temperance and Sites, why is no one proposing restoring Tulare Lake? It would be cheaper than any new dam, replenish Central Valley aquifers, re-create a huge bird habitat, restore an area that used to house people, birds and wildlife. It would be minimal cost – part of it returns periodically due to flood and a small amount has occurred due to restoration efforts. However, to provide real benefits, more restoration is needed for the lake to be year-round and to restore the aquifers. You can have twice the surface storage for 1/5th the cost – or 20 cents on the dollar. The restoration of just 10% of the historic Tulare Lake would be nearly twice the surface storage capacity of Temperance Flat. It would be a recreational feature for central valley communities. The land it would flood is at most a few very poor communities without adequate drinking water and farmland.
What happened to it? It was dried up by dams built by early cotton farmers to reclaim the land. In the process they killed the local Indian tribes.
Why not restore it? Ah yes, because that would mean flooding much of the land that is now J.G. Boswell’s cotton empire. I say restoring Tulare Lake would be REAL regional self-sufficiency. It would provide all of the water the Central Valley farmers need while restoring the aquifers at small cost to change some canals and no ongoing maintenance cost.
Find out more about Tulare Lake and potential restoration:
- Tulare Lake Restoration Proposal
- Restoring Tulare Lake Facebook Page
- UC Berkeley Speech (long, but interesting)