Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dams are the Solution

The current global crisis in fresh potable water (and enough cold water in the American and Sacramento Rivers to help the salmon whose plight is noted in yesterday’s post) is more a crisis of storage than of a lack of water as the rain is still falling in great gushers; but—in America anyway—we have stopped building dams to capture and store the fresh water from the sky that will, if captured and stored, provide us with plenty of water.

Along with the obvious solution for our area, the building of Auburn Dam, which would double our storage capacity—now appears to be off the table though congressional action can restore it—there is another that would solve the water problems for the larger region and that is the raising of Shasta Dam to its originally engineered height of 200 feet higher than it now is, tripling its water supply, which an article from the Los Angeles Times describes:

“From an engineering standpoint, it's a piece of cake. The dam, built between 1938 and 1945, was originally planned to be 200 feet taller. At 800 feet, it would have been the highest and biggest in the world.

“Sheri Harral, public affairs officer at the dam, said World War II and materials shortages associated with the war effort led to a decision to stop construction at 602 feet.

"The thinking was to come back and add on to it if ever there was a need to," Harral said. "They started looking at raising it in 1978."

“If Shasta Dam had been built up to its engineering limit in 1945, it is arguable that Northern and Central California would not be facing a critical water shortage now.

“According to a 1999 Bureau of Reclamation study, a dam 200 feet taller would be able to triple storage to 13.89 million acre-feet of water.”

A recent review of a new book about water is posted on the PERC website.

An excerpt.

“The United States must come to terms with its lavish use of water and, at the same time, figure out serious solutions to the immediate problem related to access to water.

“University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law professor Robert Glennon details the nationwide issue in his new book, Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What We Can Do About It. The book was published in April by Island Press.

“The 400-page book delves into issues related to wealth, privatization, farming, water consumption, "water alchemists," water harvesting, and other topics.

“The solution to the "water crisis," according to Glennon, is not in towing icebergs from Alaska or in having citywide mandates to only allow for lawn watering twice a week, as was recently suggested in Los Angeles.

"Americans are spoiled. We turn on the tap and out comes a limitless amount of high quality water for less money than we pay for cell phone service or cable television," said Glennon.

"Because water is so cheap, people don't value it," he added.

“Yes, conservation must be a major part of the solution, but controlling population growth and using price signals and market forces to allocate water are also critical, he said. One suggestion would be to shift use rights to allow water rights to be transferred from farmers to buyers. That way, farmers could sell land that has the lowest crop yields, reducing their reliance on the water source.”