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Dam Busters in California: Manmade Droughts, Unemployment

California Has Water, Water Everywhere…

[This is a shameful collection and rewrite of Tom McClintock’s thoughts on water. All errors of fact and imprudent language are mineI am Roger Canfield, a former campaign
aide, a former public information officer for the California Department of Water Resources and a volunteer for the Auburn Dam Council. .]

Tom McClintock has aptly observed that World
War II, millions of American migrants, and the election of Earl Warren in 1942 stimulated
the completion of depression era plans from the 30s for expansion of
California’s public works. Under Governor Warren and Goodwin Knight California was prepared for a population explosion and an economic boom that lasted for
decades. Their vision of expanded infrastructure, including water works, was implemented
by Gov. Pat Brown, and continued by Ronald Reagan.

By May 1957 the final engineering studies
were completed, in 1959 the Burns-Porter Act was adopted, and construction
began on what McClintock calls “the most extensive system for water
distribution since the golden age of Rome.” State of California engineers and the
Federal Bureau of Reclamation built the State Water Project and the Central
Valley Project. These along with the Colorado Aqueduct and other projects of
the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California are “among the greatest
engineering wonders of the 20th Century.” Indeed the amount of digging
and the engineering far surpassed the legendary path between the seas known as
the Panama Canal.

Through never completed the State Water
Project constructed 32 storage facilities, reservoirs and lakes and 660 miles
of open canals and pipelines. Some 20 pumping plants move — millions of acre
feet of water from Northern California and pumped it from the Central Valley
floor below sea level to elevations of 3,500 feet in the high deserts of
Southern California. Along the way aqueducts branched south and west carrying
water to urban coastal areas in Napa, Santa Clara, San Luis Obispo, and Santa
Barbara, to Central Valley farms, to the Inland Empire of Riverside- San
Bernardino and the great metropolis of Los Angeles-Orange. The State Water
Project alone supplements local water supplies for approximately 20 million of 40million
Californians and about 660,000 acres of irrigated farmland.

The flood and drought cycle that tormented
Northern California, the inland sea was tamed, and year-round water flows
stabilized the wild swings between fresh water and ocean tides within the Sacramento
Delta. That generation of leaders recognized that it was possible to tame the
inland sea and drain the swamps of the Central Valley. They had the vision and
the political will to provide for the greening of all California from the
resources possessed within California. No longer did a growing population and
economy need to live in dread of California’s predictable and devastating

Nor did Sacramento and environs face catastrophic
floods in near every wet year.  And
substantial progress was made against the great floods of Sacramento River and
its tributaries.

As McClintock reminds us with this cornucopia
of water came the construction of 5 large hydroelectric power plants delivering
plentiful, cheap, and absolutely clean electricity. This electricity pumped
water over mountains and across deserts and provided energy to California’s
growing urban population, agriculture, and industry. 

In 1965 California’s water storage was such
that so vast that many communities didn’t bother with water meters.

But during the Sixties, change was “blowing in the wind.” And an ill wind at that. Jerry Brown did not inherit the virtues
of his father.

Elected in 1974 Jerry Brown adopted a radical policy agenda which San Francisco Chronicle’s Greg
Lucas described as the “kumbaya über alles environmental movement.”

Jerry Brown called it an “era of limits” on growth under the “new age nonsense” of “small is
beautiful.” McClintock observes, “It is…a radical and retrograde ideology…with
the simplistic notion that if we stop building things, people won’t come.”

So in 1974 we stopped building things—and people came anyway. [Save for illegal immigration by the 2000s economically devastating taxation and regulations driven thousands of jobs and families out of California.]

Jerry Brown, elected again in 2010, found his policies largely unchanged through two Democratic and two Republican administrations.

McClintock: “The same ideology devastated the water delivery system of the state. We abandoned
dams in mid-construction. We shelved the visionary plans for the aqueducts and
the conveyance facilities necessary to complete the greening of California.

Through 2000 since the mid-1970s California’s population had grown about 60 percent. Water storage
capacity grew only 12 percent. From the 90s to 2000, this disparity got worse–
the population increased 15 percent, water storage capacity has increased by
two percent. “We’ve now reached a day when the state can store less than one
year’s water consumption in its entire system. The Department of Water
Resources has a year-round drought preparedness program in wet years and dry.”

Meanwhile, California lost its ability to overdraft its legal share of Colorado River
water. Stopping dam construction squelched the opportunity for abundant, cheap
and clean hydroelectric power. While population increased  60 percent since 1975, hydroelectric
production increased just seven percent. California’s cost of electricity has
skyrocketed due to high peak generation costs using expensive hydro power. Electricity
imports from out of state have doubled. Californians now pay the highest
electricity prices in the entire United States, save Hawaii. [Tom McClintock, Claremont
Institute, Huntington Beach, May 2, 2003]. Californians pay no less 50% more
than most states.

Environmental laws and regulations have taken, usually without compensation, millions of acre feet
in water rights, particular from agriculture in the name of endangered species
of fish – salmon and smelt-, weeds, water foul. Even the most minor project or
operational decision routinely takes water away from current holders of water
rights. In the relicensing of federal hydro projects 7-10 percent of water is
diverested to private rafting companies and to species of fish and foul—without
compensation. Farmers have rightfully called this a “manmade drought.”

In the past twenty years, no dam, aqueduct or
power plant of any significance has been constructed. Whatever the frantic demand
for water and whatever the level of unemployment in farming communities (the
highest in the nation in 2011), intentional bureaucratic and environmental processes
openly delay and veto projects. Even the most minor project faces death by a thousand cuts.

The drought of the mid 2000s seemed to find relief
in the heavy rains of 2009-2011. There was plenty of water, but most was dumped
into the sea and/or allocated for salmon and smelt at the expense of farmring communities.
In the summer of 2011 nine of the ten communities with the highest unemployment
in the United States were in California. And all of it could be attributed to a
manmade drought.

With some lesser local exception, everywhere California relies upon the water system of the 1960’s.

With the administration of Governor Jerry Brown’s former Chief of
Staff, Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzennegger things did not get better.

At the state and federal levels it was still said that no more dams would
be  And indeed many dams were targeted for
destruction, e.g. Klamath. Dams offend environmentalists. Yet dams and water
projects have stopped the environmental devastation of flooding the Delta and
Sacramento.  Dams and  aqueducts keep rivers flowing through years of

Some say there are no more dam sites. That is
not exactly true. While the Colorado River is the principal source of water for
seven western states, the Sacramento River is 20 percent more than on the

Indeed, the flood flows of the Sacramento and American Rivers at the Delta can reach one million cubic feet per second. And
there is far, far more water that escapes to the Pacific every year in the
undeveloped mighty rivers of California’s wilderness, the northwestern coast.
On this coast where only the Klamath and the Trinity have developed water
supplies, the Eel, Smith and other rivers have gargantuan floods that have in
living memory swept away whole towns on the isolated north coast.

There is a vital difference. Some 70 million-acre feet of water are stored on the Colorado. Only 10 million-acre
feet of water is stored on the Sacramento and next to none is stored on the
mighty rivers of the Northwest.

It’s storage stupid.

Water experts have identified a large number
of possible projects. Constructing the Auburn Dam has the added advantage of
protecting the lives and property of nearly a million people downstream. Water
supplies could be increased by raising dams at Shasta, Folsom, Los Vaqueros,
and Friant, and others or by storing water on sunken Delta islands, at Sites,
and at other off stream locations. Virtually every water district in California
has projects filed in its archives, mired in bureaucratic processes, or facing
well organized environmental opposition.

And ALL that is lacking is the political will.

Governor Davis concocted a $2 billion “water” bond – without a dime for surface water storage let alone new hydroelectric
power. “Small, it seems, is still beautiful – except for the price.”

Indeed in recent years other billions of dollars have been raised on three “water” bonds (Propositions, 204,
13, and 50) that improve water quality and give more water to fish and
wildlife, but at best and infrequently, only “study” new water supplies for
humans in California’s great cities and for world’s most productive
agriculture. Finally, CALFED, a state and federal conglomerate of
bureaucracies, has spent billions on environmental improvements, but is still
studying water supply projects, long ago engineered and promised, but never

Besides building pretty much
nothing, today’s state “water” bonds serve no statewide purpose at all. They
have become a political grab bag for local politicians eager for photo
opportunities in the hometown newspaper. A water bond in 2001, for example,
added not a drop of surface water storage, despite the fact that California
stores less than one year’s water consumption throughout the entire state
system. Bond funds are rather squandered over hundreds of local projects, like
waste treatment plant repairs, paid for not by the local communities that
benefit, but by all of the taxpayers of the state.

Today, 30-year bonds also are
being used for maintenance, clean-up, grants to community organizations and
administrative overhead. This spending vanishes leaving nothing tangible
behind. Our children will still be paying for this a generation from now.

California continues like Greece, to spend increasing percentages of person than
at any time in the history. There has not been a 40 percent increase in water

The answer to where the water money goes is into the bureaucracies at the Resource Agency,
California Department of Water Resources, State Water Resources Control Board,
Department of Fish and Game, and at CALFED a ponderous conglomerate of a score
of state and federal agencies. And what little those bureaucracies are
accomplishing using billions of dollars is mind-boggling.

Over $2.0 billion (state,
fed, local) was spent by
CALFED, largely for ecosystem restoration, water
quality, conservation. CALFED
completed no new water storage project and there is no date-certain plans for
the design or construction of any project in the near future. CALFED merely
studies possible surface water projects while it plunges ahead on
environmentally correct projects.

A $200 million nine year process to relicense Oroville
Hydroelectric Facilities.
This pays
for meetings and over 75 studies even though the decision is pro forma —
otherwise the whole State Water Project must be shut down. California
bureaucrats want this convoluted process — FERC wants to simplify. The process
reduces actual deliveries of water to cities and farms.

A $30 million Comprehensive Study of flood control needs in northern and central California ordered by
Congress and the Legislature after the devastating floods of 1997 produced
computer models of questionable accuracy and a final report with no flood control
projects in it. None. Zero.

The $20-25 million California Water Plan
(Bulletin 162- 2003) took six years of meetings and hundreds of pages of
documents to recommend no new surface water supply projects.  It has been alleged that water conservation numbers were doctored to quask new surface storage projects.

(Estimated) over $ 5 BILLIONS in three “water” bonds
(204, 13, 50) – virtually no water supplies in any of them.

$ X millions in computer and consulting
contracts (a reliable source) in CERS energy buying unit and in DWR accounting.
CERS software for power purchasing and other transactions is obscenely and
suspiciously expensive. DWR’s internal SAP accounting software is so bad that
water billings to SWP’s 29 contractors (water wholesalers) are based on best
guesses. Coming to a water bill near you?

CALFED. In nearly a decade of spending over $2.0 billion CALFED has completed no new water
storage project and as of 2003 has no date-certain plans for the design or
construction of any project in the near future. CALFED, a consortium of 11
state and 13 federal agencies, which was created to balance environmental,
urban, and agricultural water interests, has instead since 1995 spent a
disproportionate share of its funds on environmental projects at the expense of
vital new water supplies for a growing population.

In recent years CALFED spent over $300 million out of which less than 9 percent was to study new water
storage. Fully $250 million was spent instead on ecosystem restoration – bring
back the swamps, plant vegetation in the flood plain – often at the expense of
flood control and human uses of water. Merely $27 million was spent to study –
not build – three storage projects. By the end of 2004 environmental impact
statements are expected on Sites Reservoir and to raise Shasta Dam and Los
Vaqueros reservoir.

For example, in the 1999-2000
state budget a very modest $10 million was funded for water resources
investigations by CALFED. Yet budget
language severely restricted the use of those funds to $4.2 million for
off-stream storage investigations and only $1.2 million of that could be used
for engineering and economic studies north of the Delta needs – where all the
water is. $ 2 million of $5.8 million storage investigations was earmarked for
a groundwater-conjunctive use study. Hence, there was no support for new water
supply and storage projects.

Overall, CALFED spent a
little more than 1% in the last three years on continuing studies of surface
water storage and plans to spend about 3.5 % for such studies over the next
three years.

A Schwarzenegger endorsed water bond from the legislature in 2010 has been tabled in bad economic times, but it too has no water in it.
A new delta entity claims it will be different. It might build a new canal/tunnel, but framers are reluctant to pay for water they do not get.

Relicensing Oroville Hydroelectric Facilities.

A nine-year and $ 1 billion process of meetings of committees, special interests, and
state and federal bureaucrats and of over 75 studies is working to relicense
the Oroville Dam under federal law before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,
FERC. This expensive process driven by California environmental enthusiasts is
making decisions that will significantly reduce water available for human use
on the entire State Water Project.

And — except to buy off with water and/or cash a plethora of special interest groups – is totally
unnecessary. The decision is simple. Relicense the facility that produces the
electricity that pumps the water of the State Water Project. The only other
choice is stark — shut down the State Water Project and forcefully march 20
million or so people out of California. Kymer Rouge environmentalism replaces
Kumbaya uber alles environmentalism? FERC, a federal commission actually would
like a simplified process. It is the Governor Davis appointees in California
who have constructed a monstrous bureaucracy they dearly love.

Flood Control. Similarly,
a comprehensive study of flood control
needs in northern and central California ordered by Congress and the
Legislature after the devastating floods of 1997 came within an hour of
flooding the City of Sacramento completed its work in 2002. The final report
made no recommendations for flood control projects despite a cost of $30
million. All of this despite state and local governments losing flood damage
lawsuits caused by negligent maintenance and over zealous environmental
protection risking life and property. The “comp” study did create elaborate
computer models of river systems which some local citizens in public hearings
roundly criticized as both inaccurate and putting their lives and property in
danger in the name of environmental correctness.

The California Water Plan – A Year Late and Water
Short. DWR’s
Bulletin 162 was once a
visionary document produced every five years by Department of Water Resources
at the request of the Legislature to outline plans and prospects for
California’s water future. In 2003 DWR released a draft document for public
review a year late. The draft was loaded with environmental dogma such as
conservation and global warming, but lacking a “consensus” – an
environmentalist veto, the report did not recommend a single new state surface
water supply project for California despite a population increase to 50 million
by 2030. It deferred to the CALFED studies of surface facilities unlikely to
avoid its own environmentalist veto. The $20-25 million report waxes eloquently
about six years of feel good meetings of a 65-member Advisory Committee,
stakeholders, subcommittees, and environmental improvements. The “kumbaya
über alles environmental movement” is alive and well.

However, “There is a
consensus that that strategies such as increased conservation, conjunctive
management, recycling, desalination, water quality protection, and ecosystem
restoration should all be implemented.” No surface water storage, but all the

Environmentalists in Power

Largely intimidated by radical environmentalist extremists in power, cowed and timid representatives
of farm, business, and urban water users attend hundreds of water policy
meetings and say next to nothing about the need for new fresh water supplies.
Their predecessors completed most of the necessary planning and engineering in
1957 for all the water California will ever need. Those projects were long ago
stopped and forgotten.

Months of meetings go by
without the utterance of the word “dam” or “storage.” Whole days pass
discussing “collaborative” processes and procedures without the word “water”
except as the proper name of a bureaucracy or of a special interest group.
There is talk about fish, public trust, environmental justice, ecosystem
restoration, and unmet environmental water requirements.

The environmental extremists
dominate discussions talking endlessly about economically unfeasible
desalination of seawater, environmentally correct conservation, and politically
unacceptable recycling of sewer water to tap water.

Operating at DWR’s sister
agency, the Water Resources Control Board, environmentalists use every means to
take water rights from farmers and give water to fish and to salt sinks like
the Salton Sea. Legislation enacted late in 2003 gives the regional boards of
the Water Resources Control Board the power to halt timber harvests on private
property and allocate still more water to fish. The Board took away water rights from the federal Bureau of Reclamation timidly defended for building the Auburn Dam.

McClintock excoriated the Board for its lack of vision in taking water right away from one of the most water and power rich projects.

The bureaucracies are growing at the expense of the freedom that produces
prosperity — and in the case of flood control — at the expense of the very
lives and properties of citizens.  In
recent years the largest cuts in the budget of the Department of Water
Resources were in public safety – flood control and dam safety, but not a
single DWR employee has been laid off during the budget crisis. (Most of DWR
budget is paid out of SWP water sales and NOT taxes.)

There is a hopeful note in the instance of Governor Gray Davis exercising political
will against environmentalist roadblocks – DWR drilling emergency wells along
the Klamath during a few weeks in 2001.

During the Spring and Summer of ’01 a political storm raged throughout the 200-mile
long Klamath River Basin. Farmers lost their fifty-year water rights to sucker
fish. Communities in California and Oregon rose up in revolt – actually forcefully taking over federal pumps on July 4, 2002.

Meanwhile, on May 4th Governor
Davis exercising his emergency powers ordered the Department of Water Resources
to find emergency water. The mission objectives were urgent and clear — find
new water to save topsoil in 2001 and discover new groundwater for agriculture
and wildlife to supplement scarce surface water in dry future years. With a
modest $5 million and within six weeks of the Governor’s declaration of a
drought emergency in Tulelake in Siskiyou and Modoc counties, the first water
was gushing onto once dry dirt. DWR supervised private contractors who punched
wells down thousands of feet –past stingy dry sediments and impermeable clays
–into water friendly, fractured rock. Soon nine wells surrendered generous
quantities of water –some trapped in hundreds of feet of broken rocks nearly
half a mile below caramelized high desert landscapes. Many wells produced
10,000 gallons per minute, 3,000 acre-feet in 70 days of pumping.

It was a practical solution based on DWR’s long dormant
technical genius. Like the civil service heroes in a Tom Clancy novel, DWR
people proved that in a crisis a professionally run bureaucracy is not fiction.
DWR’s groundwater specialists indeed had long prepared for a “disaster in the
making” years before.

All that is needed is political will.

Sources: Closing the Era of Limits, McClintock, Speech to the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group, May 18, 2001.

Tom McClintock, A Tale of Two Generations, December 1, 1999.

Tom McClintock, Delta Improvements…CALFED testimony before Assembly October 28, 2003.

Tom McClintock, A Citizens’ Guide to the State Budget Mess: A Menu of 217 Proposals to Reduce State Government Spending, May 31,1995.

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