It Rained, It Poured, And We Stored: Why Aren’t We Building More?

Last week Governor Brown declared the end of the drought, the CA Department of Water Resources reports snow pack is at all-time highs, dams are filling up and rivers are fast flowing, all in all 2011 has been a great water year.

As a result of this seemingly abundance of water, the age-old California water storage question has resurfaced: Why are we not building more dams? Some believe it is environmentalists protecting their beloved free flowing stretches of rivers and others believe all of the good dam sites in California have already been dammed. However, as of late, the primary reason for the damming deadlock is the cost. Currently there are small locally and privately funded dam projects in the works but the two remaining state and federal dam site proposals have been deemed economically infeasible. This is the concern with the three remaining large projects being studied: raising Shasta Dam on the Sacramento River, Temperance Flat a new dam on the San Joaquin River, and off-stream Sites Reservoir in Colusa County

The 18.5 foot Shasta Dam raise would cost $1 billion dollars and could yield an estimated annual new water supply of just 60,000 acre-feet (AF) on average (due to fishery flow restrictions). But the dam and resulting reservoir would inundate parts of the Wild and Scenic McCloud River. Sites Reservoir, which would flood and fill a rural valley off-stream, is estimated to cost $3.6 billion and Temperance Flat may have trouble penciling out because it would reduce the generating capacity of the Kerckhoff hydroelectric system.

Speaking to the two federally studied projects Shasta and Temperance, PCL’s Senior Water Policy Advisor Jonas Minton, who formerly oversaw water storage investigations at the state Department of Water Resources said, “The only way these two projects would be built is if taxpayers provide massive subsidies.” He further stated, “Environmentally acceptable dams are being built, when those who benefit put up the money.”