Don Rogers: Leaky argument for dam | TheUnion.com

Don Rogers: Leaky argument for dam

Don Rogers

Does a watershed already festooned with dams really need another?

When is enough enough?

Cool to see conservatives acknowledge the fact of global warming, though.

These are my early thoughts about the wisdom of building the Centennial Dam on the Bear River between Combie and Rollins reservoirs.

The problem is the state commission scored the public benefit for the dam at zero. Zero. That’s kind of a thunderclap.

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A certain general opaqueness about the Nevada Irrigation District does bother me. So does a board that's supposed to serve as a quasi-judicial entity carefully weighing the merits of all the options and studies — after they are completed — instead acting as a super salesman now for a precooked solution, the Cadillac at that.

They've gone far enough down this road to quietly buy up private homes in the path of inundation if the dam were built, telling owners the dam is inevitable, or at least that's what the owners are hearing.

I also suspect, strongly at this point, who's going to pay for the dam in the end. That would be you and me, the people using plenty of water now and during drought, for the primary benefit of Lincoln, perhaps, but not here.

We don't and won't "need" this water for decades to come, if ever. There's no compelling recreational reason for yet more local lakefront. Comparing per capita water use here vs. the rest of California, it seems conservation alone would make as much headway as needed for decades yet.

So what's the rush? The dam site identified in 1926 as someday ideal, once truly necessary, has waited this long. Surely we can afford to wait a little longer before stuffing another lake in between Combine and Rollins.

The state Water Commission this month didn't waste much time turning down the chance to provide funding for the project. NID didn't work very hard making its case. I found this strange for an entity I thought was working hard, never mind at all, to find savings for the ratepayers.

The problem is the state commission scored the public benefit for the dam at zero. Zero. That's kind of a thunderclap.

The yearslong, in-depth studies of the environmental effects and key insights into the real need for the dam and alternatives are not yet finished. But the NID board already has decided alternatives to dam-building are not going to work. The specter of global warming has spooked them into declarations that smack of panic, even labeling what look like prudent conservation steps "extreme."

And what they view as "prudent" — dam building at somewhere between their current estimate of $325 million and the $1 billion critics see — strikes me as the extreme remedy for a problem they don't have, at least not yet.

I do think there are less costly measures to take first, especially with the probability we ratepayers will be footing this, and even more so if state and federal funding aren't in the cards.

The Water Commission's rejection and NID's wimpy effort to tap those funds give me pause, as well. A shrug and complaint about a grant writer were far from confidence builders following a proposal that flopped entirely.

Is this the level of diligence and attention we can expect from NID in other aspects of the project? I know it's only $12 million, but I don't know, a dozen million here, a dozen million there and pretty soon we're talking real money that slips through their grasp while making heavy sales pitches on a big decision they made before getting the facts they need … to make a big decision like this.

This feels a lot like "ready, fire, aim" or maybe not quite that organized.

So, the decision-makers are selling the most costly alternative before they've studied it; referencing global warming studies as if conclusive proof of needing specifically a dam, nothing else would do; spending millions on property in the dam's way; showing something less than their fullest attention on winning grants for the project.

No, they haven't exactly sold me to this point. You?

Don Rogers is the publisher of The Union, Lake Wildwood Independent and Truckee Sun. He can be reached at drogers@theunion.com or 530-477-4299.

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