Friday, April 08, 2011

Dam Protesters

The title of this article in the Sacramento Bee “Dams seem like a simple idea, but are harder to plan and build” raises the question, why?

The article, congruent with the media's normative aversion to dams and their historical support of the environmental movement to whom free-flowing rivers and sparsely populated cities are devoutly to be desired, responds with, among others, that it costs too much—though when considering the loss of life and property a major flood in Sacramento could cause, is a cost that is very worthwhile—a new argument being used by the protesting environmentalists to any form of development and water storage technology.

A perusal of the recent report from the US Geological Survey: Overview of the ArkStorm Scenario, will reveal how incredibly destructive a period of substantial rainfall—which has occurred before—can be to Sacramento when it is not captured and stored behind a major dam.

An excerpt from the Bee article.

“As prodigious winter runoff empties into the ocean, Californians who spent the past few years in a drought might see those rivers gushing by and wonder, thirstily, "Why can't we capture that?"

“Had we done so in the last wet period, the thinking goes, perhaps we could have tempered the sting of drought. More storage capacity could also reduce flood risk in years when the rain and snow just won't stop.

“The idea is simple, but executing it is controversial – and expensive. Large state and federal water storage projects have been in the planning for years, and construction dates remain elusive. Some projects, such as the long-dormant Auburn dam on the American River, have been halted by environmental, safety and financial concerns.

“There are new water storage projects under construction in California, but they are exclusively small, locally funded projects, carefully devised to address environmental concerns.

"Developing water today is very expensive," said Michelle Denning, regional planning officer for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

“The price of water from new dams carries much of the burden to repay construction cost. The danger: It will be so expensive nobody will want to buy it.

“This is the concern with two large projects the federal reclamation agency is studying: Temperance Flat, a new dam on the San Joaquin River; and raising Shasta Dam on the Sacramento River.

“In Shasta's case, despite a potential storage increase of 650,000 acre-feet, a dam raise of 18.5 feet would yield an estimated annual new water supply of just 60,000 acre-feet on average, due to the need to preserve flows for fisheries. That could make the potential $1 billion cost difficult to finance.

“An acre-foot is enough to supply two average households for a year.

“The Shasta Dam project faces another hurdle: State law prohibits any state agency from participating because it would submerge a portion of the McCloud River, designated "wild and scenic."

“On the San Joaquin River, the proposed Temperance Flat dam may have trouble penciling out because it would reduce the generating capacity of the Kerckhoff hydroelectric system.

"The only way these two projects would be built is if taxpayers provide massive subsidies," said Jonas Minton, a senior project manager at the Planning and Conservation League, who formerly oversaw water storage investigations at the state Department of Water Resources.”