|Governor to push for new
dams despite long-standing resistance
by Michael Gardner COPLEY NEWS SERVICE,
January 7, 2007 SACRAMENTO – Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger plans to draw on his popular
campaign against global warming to promote
something not so popular among
environmentalists – building new dams in
His strategy will attempt to capitalize on
fears that climatic disruptions linked to
global warming could take a toll on fish and
wildlife, as well as increase flood risks and
reduce overall water supplies for a growing
To guard against those threats, Schwarzenegger
will aggressively pursue at least one, and
possibly two new reservoirs as part of his
2007 agenda. The combined price tag could be
as much as $3.7 billion for the dams proposed
near Sacramento and Fresno.
“Climate change is a big issue for the
environmental community,” said Lester Snow,
director of the state Department of Water
Resources. “The challenge will be talking to
them about how surface storage could be
managed to ameliorate the impacts.”
PEGGY PEATTIE / Union-Tribune The state
hasn't constructed a big reservoir, like the
Metropolitan Water District-built Diamond
Valley Lake near Temecula, since 1974.
A challenge indeed – in and outside of the
Legislature. “We want to make sure this isn't just
a cynical way to get public subsidies for projects
that make no sense,” said Assemblyman Jared
Huffman, D-San Rafael.
Schwarzenegger's proposal, which may be outlined
in his State of the State address Tuesday, is
expected to take a comprehensive approach to water
supply, including storing more underground,
investing in recycling and encouraging stricter
The governor also may add another controversial
project to his water policy agenda – a canal to
move supplies south. A new conveyance option is
seen as a potential safeguard in case disaster
disrupts deliveries through the Sacramento Delta,
a 1,100-mile maze of waterways that carries
two-thirds of the state's drinking water. Voters
resoundingly rejected a similar project, the
Peripheral Canal, in 1982 and the canal has been
political poison ever since.
Appearing via satellite before a friendly crowd of
farmers and agribusiness executives,
Schwarzenegger pledged in early December to pursue
both projects this year as part of an aggressive
public works agenda.
“Even though I want more infrastructure and to
have more bonds approved, it would never happen
unless above-the-ground storage is part of this
package and unless we have conveyance,” he said.
Scientists say carbon dioxide emissions, mostly
from cars and industry-burning fossil fuels, are
mostly responsible for the global warming
phenomenon. As the Earth's atmosphere warms,
California's top climatologists warn, the mountain
snowpack will be reduced and melt more quickly. At
lower elevations, storms will bring much more rain
than snow, they predict.
With the current rate of warming, California could
lose 5 percent of its snowpack by 2030, 33 percent
by 2060 and 50 percent by 2090, according to state
Californians count on the annual snowpack for at
least a third of their water supply. The rest
comes from the Colorado River, rain, reservoirs
and underground aquifers.
The first snow survey this season produced
disappointing results, with the state average at
59 percent of normal. But winter is just getting
under way in the Sierra.
The state has not constructed a large reservoir
since 1974, with the opening of the
127,000-acre-foot Lake Perris in Riverside County.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern
California built Diamond Valley Lake, an
800,000-acre-foot reservoir near Temecula. In San
Diego County, the water authority filled the
small, 24,000-acre-foot Olivenhain Reservoir just
west of Escondido in 2003 at a cost of $200
million. (An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons, enough
water to meet the needs of two average households
for a year.) Environmentalists and leading
Democrats say global warming is being used as an
excuse – not a reason – to pour concrete.
Jason Barbose, who tracks global warming issues
for Environment California, advised Schwarzenegger
to stay focused on prevention.
“We don't want to be put in a position of throwing
up our arms and saying global warming is
inevitable, the loss of snowpack is inevitable, so
we have to build reservoirs,” Barbose said.
Snow, the governor's water chief, said the
administration is taking a comprehensive view that
will include promoting conservation and storing
more water underground. The administration has $1
billion to spend on improving water quality and
increasing supplies over the next five years, he
But a serious look at additional storage must be
included in any strategy, Snow said. New
reservoirs have been part of previously approved,
long-range water plans for the better part of two
decades, and millions of dollars have been spent
on studies. “It's the other piece of the puzzle,”
Snow said. “All we're saying right now is let's
complete the puzzle.”
But given steadfast resistance to reservoirs, what
has changed to convince water planners that this
may be the year?
“There's a much better understanding of climate
change and how it may affect water resources,”
Snow said. “Many in the environmental community
see the benefits of managing your storage to deal
with climate change issues. What they may need to
be convinced of is that you actually have to add
storage to do that.”
Barry Nelson, a water specialist with the Natural
Resources Defense Council, sees another agenda.
“It's agriculture. They're hoping the taxpayers
will build them another billion-dollar handout,”
Nelson said that environmentalists have received
too much blame for stalling reservoirs. Major
urban water agencies have not lined up with signed
checks either, he said.
“Water users don't believe it pencils out,” Nelson
said. “Surface storage is still going to be
Despite repeated efforts, Schwarzenegger has been
unable to persuade water agencies to agree to
higher fees for other projects – much less
Snow said the governor will insist on a
cost-sharing arrangement with users before the
state commits billions. “We shouldn't be
subsidizing water,” he said. “Those that get
direct benefit from the facilities should be
willing to pay.”
The San Diego County Water Authority would
consider chipping in, but only if ratepayers see a
direct benefit, said James Bond, a board member.
“Sure, it's time for us to look at storage, but in
a thoughtful and practical way,” he said. “It's
not the answer. It's part of the solution.”
The debate will spill back to the Legislature,
where Republicans are demanding a bond that
includes money for actual construction instead of
what they consider appeasement funding for more
Assembly Republicans temporarily held up last
year's massive public works package over the
absence of funding for reservoirs. Democrats
refused to give in, however.
“Just like our highways, we have to invest in our
water infrastructure,” GOP Leader Mike Villines of
Fresno said recently. “We cannot conserve our way
to growing the size of Long Beach every year. It's
not going to happen.”
Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, was
an ally of the Republican governor on several
issues last year, including the historic bill
targeting global warming and the public works bond
package. But he draws the line at building dams.
“Democrats don't support water storage,” Núñez
said Wednesday, flatly dismissing any such
proposal. “I learned that last year.”
The two leading locations under consideration
could store a combined 3 million acre-feet, enough
for 6 million households a year. However, the
reservoirs would have to include flood control
space and hold water for environmental uses, such
as flows for fish migration.
The proposed Sites Reservoir, which would be
off-stream, is about 60 miles northwest of
Sacramento. The reservoir would be filled by
running a 16-mile pipeline from the Sacramento
The proposed Temperance Flat project would stretch
a dam across the San Joaquin River, just above
Millerton Lake outside Fresno.
Schwarzenegger said he doesn't have a favorite.
“Whichever one comes in first and has all the
approvals, let's build it,” he said last spring.