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Drought or Flood: Why Build Dams?

If droughts won't build dams, maybe floods will.

Apr 01, 2011


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APRIL 1ST 2011

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Denis Prosperi
Chester Andrew
Bob Smittcamp
Russ Waymire
John "Dusty" Giacone
Joe Marchini
Mark Watte
Kole Upton
Piedad Ayala
Tom Barcellos
Jim Walls

Drought or Flood:  Why Build Dams?

In the article below (Uh-Oh, The State Drought Is Over), the Chico Enterprise-Record makes the case that legislators and voters in California worry about building more water storage during droughts, but then forget about it when it rains.  In the heart of the drought a water bond was proposed for the voters, but removed for political reasons.  The water bond is supposed to come back next year, but with all the rain will voters have their minds on other things?  We may need a longer, more serious drought to get the people's and legislator's attention.  But, it hasn't always been droughts that led to construction of dams in the Valley.

From 1936 to 1946 the Tulare Lake bottom was not farmable because of flood waters from the Kings River, Kaweah River, Tule River, Kern River and other creeks, streams and rivers.  The loss of jobs and damage to the economy was devastating to Kings County and the Valley.

These uncontrolled large rivers damaged and threatened cities and communities along these waterways.  Kings River was a threat to Reedley, Kingsburg, Lemoore and other communities.  Kaweah River and Cross Creek threatened the city of Visalia .  The Tule River threatened Porterville, Tulare and other smaller communities in many years.  The Kern River flooded and threatened Bakersfield and Buena Vista Lake’s farmers.


Prior to the 1950s the above named cities teamed with farmers and went to Congress for flood protection.  They eventually got approval for construction of Pine Flat Dam on the Kings River, Terminus Dam on the Kaweah River, Success Dam on the Tule River and Isabella Dam on the Kern River.


These projects were constructed after congressional approval by the Corps of Engineers and have lessened the flood threat since their construction was completed.  Pine Flat Dam was completed in 1954 and 40 percent of the cost of the dam was accepted and repaid by the farming communities and water districts along the Kings River for water storage.  Sixty-percent of the bill was picked up by the federal government for flood protection.


Since the construction of these reservoirs the flooding has been significantly diminished, but in 1969 and 1983 over 1-million acre-feet of water found its way to Tulare Lake and into several communities on its way.  Flash back to the present:  with reservoirs filling daily and a snowpack threatening to be the most ever on record we are indeed at risk of severe flooding this year.


Will the end of the drought end our dreams of additional water storage and flood protection projects such as Temperance Flat Dam, Rodgers Crossing Dam and others on uncontrolled streams that will threaten our communities and farms within a few weeks?  Or will we see extensive flooding, property damage and economic loss place a new emphasis on building these projects for flood protection?


It is arguable these projects have been the most beneficial of any in America as they provided for our Central Valley economy and our nation's food supply.  They also protected our cities from significant flood damage, something that could occur again this spring because we haven't seen fit to add to our flood control/water supplyl infrastructure.

If droughts won't build dams, maybe floods will.

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Editorial: Uh-oh, the state drought is over

Chico Enterprise-Record

Our view: Now that the drought is officially over, sadly, the state will go back to ignoring its pressing water needs.

After one last snow survey Wednesday, the state government finally did the obvious and declared the drought officially over. Now we're really in trouble.

Being in a drought was bad enough. Living in the north state after a drought is an even more frightening prospect. The declaration that the drought is over gives urban dwellers south of here the excuse to waste water with abandon. It also delays needed action on the state's very real problem with its water storage and delivery system.

A state proposition lawmakers decided to put before voters was supposed to solve the state's problems — at a cost of $11 billion (double that when you add interest). It was supposed to be on the 2010 ballot, but former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger talked legislators into delaying the water bond vote after polls showed it wasn't likely to pass. Now it's supposed to be on the 2012 ballot.

It's even less likely to pass now because, first, the state's debt is even worse and, second, the drought is over. There's nothing to worry about, right?

That's the problem with politicians and, frankly, most Californians. They have awful memories. They've already forgotten about problems in the last drought, even though it was only, oh, a day ago.

The drought was first declared by Schwarzenegger's executive order in 2008, then affirmed by a drought emergency proclamation signed in February 2009. But it was a weak proclamation. It asked urban residents to reduce water use by 20 percent but didn't make it mandatory. More than anything — as frequently happened under Schwarzenegger — it was more for show. Calling a "drought emergency" brought attention to the problem and forced Californians to at least think about conserving.

Declaring the drought over will have the opposite effect.

In the long term, we'll probably be OK. The state's snowpack is at historically memorable levels. Water is being jettisoned at Oroville and Shasta dams because water managers fear the lakes will overflow during the spring thaw. The state's lakes, in such dire shape four months ago, are now almost all above historical averages for this time of year. Heck, we might even see a full Lake Oroville this year. (Let us rephrase that: We had better see a full Lake Oroville this year.)

It's all wonderful news. But here's a prediction, and we make it with 100 percent certainty that it will come true: There will be another drought.

And when that drought comes, the state still will be studying whether to build new reservoirs like the one at Sites in Colusa County, and citizens will be kicking lawmakers, saying they should have planned for the next drought.

The state has been studying Sites for more than a decade now. In a wet winter like this one, Sites could have been filled with excess runoff flowing out of Shasta Dam. When the next drought hits, just like in the last drought, we'll be wishing the state had more water — and a place like Sites helps address that problem.

But what the heck. Flood the gutters. Water those golf courses. Plant all that fallow ag land in the San Joaquin Valley.

The drought is over.


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