Jo Ann Rebane: Waste not, want not | TheUnion.com
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Jo Ann Rebane: Waste not, want not

It seems like it has been raining for months. There’s lots of snow in the high country.

At the end of February the Sierra snowpack was 144 percent of the historical average. Besides the water that is seeping into the ground (45.5 inches of rain since October 2018 in Grass Valley), where is all this precious, life sustaining water going?

The Yuba River, Deer Creek and Wolf Creek are running fast and full – but where is the water going?



According to the California Department of Water Resources Daily Reservoir Storage Summary, our largest reservoirs, Trinity, Shasta, and Oroville are currently at 73 percent, 88 percent, and 68 percent of capacity respectively. This means outflow from these reservoirs continues because managers expect major inflows as the Sierra snow melt brings the prospect of flooding. If there were more reservoirs, today’s rains would avert devastating flooding of the delta and could be saved for a drier day.

Meanwhile, perfectly good water continues to flow to the sea.

Closer to home, Folsom Lake is at 64 percent capacity with inflow and outflows almost identical as managers let all this rain flow downstream into the Delta and out to sea. Last month the state was soaked by 18 trillion gallons of rain sending millions of acre-feet into the Pacific. An acre-foot of water is 326,000 gallons, enough to serve two families for a year. If there were more storage reservoirs, today that water could have been saved for the next drought.




California has always experienced water feasts and famines. Drought is a recurring visitor here and so is flooding. While some droughts last a couple of years others have lasted as many as five or six years, or even longer. In the 2016-17 winter the state was blessed with record snow and rainfall and because there were no new places to store this windfall, millions of acre feet of run-off again went out to sea.

It’s not a secret that no major reservoir (flood control and water storage facility) on the scale of Shasta Dam, Oroville Dam, Trinity Lake, San Luis Reservoir or the New Don Pedro has been built since the late 1970s. The complex system of surface water storage and Water Project aqueducts were designed and built to support California’s 1970s population of 20 million. Since then the California legislature has not funded or cooperated in any major reservoir construction while the population has doubled and is now about 40 million.

To illustrate the continued lack of political initiative, during the drought of 2011-16, experts maintained that global warming had permanently altered the climate and predicted snow and rain would become increasingly rare in California. Long planned low-elevation reservoirs designed to store water during wet years were judged to have no future use and nothing was built.

A pair of Wall Street Journal editorials in April 2015 highlighted some astounding facts about California’s crazy water policy in the midst of the severe drought. To illustrate — take a piece of notebook paper — this will represent all the water which originated from the western side of the Sierra Nevada. Next fold the paper in half, and in half again. Color in three of the quarters you have created – this 75 percent is the water which spilled into San Francisco Bay, not used by man.

The remaining quarter represents the “developed” water collected in reservoirs and then allocated to specific uses. Half of this “developed” water was used exclusively on environmental projects like riparian repair, wet lands, and green belts. Of the other half of the remaining “developed” water, 80 percent was allocated to agriculture and 20 percent to urban users. It’s no wonder that in the middle of that long drought agricultural allotments were again cut back further, more farm land was fallowed, and more ground water was pumped. Residential customers were instructed to cut back, too. Good water was and continues to be lost to the Pacific Ocean day after day through droughts and wet years.

The legislature finally reacted to public outrage over drought restrictions and put Proposition 1, the Water Quality, Supply and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014, on the ballot. Voters passed the $7.5 billion bond issue. Has any of the $2.7 billion specifically earmarked for water storage projects been used yet?

KCRA 3 reported in January 2017, “Dams and reservoirs are dumping water for flood protection, but a dam that was authorized more than 20 years ago still hasn’t been built.” This reference to the Sites Reservoir, a reservoir twice the size of Folsom Lake that would hold 1.8 million acre-feet, enjoyed bipartisan support. Thousands of petitions urging action were delivered to the California Water Commission, and yet as recently as February 2018, funding for the Sites and Temperance Flat reservoirs remained blocked.

This February the Sacramento Bee reported that of the $5.2 billion cost to build Sites, the state has finally committed $816 million in Prop 1 bond money. The federal Bureau of Reclamation is considering a $1 billion investment, and water and reclamation districts around the state are also considering investments. Committed public money brings available funding to $1.2 billion according to the Vacaville Reporter. Congressmen Garamendi and LaMalfa recently introduced HR1453 to provide federal support toward building the Sites Reservoir and other Central Valley infrastructure.

Will the Sites Reservoir ever be ready and full of water to help get us through the next drought?

Let’s end with a little history — Folsom Dam was authorized in 1949, construction began in 1951, and the project was finished in September 1955 – six years start to finish.

So here we are, five years since Prop 1 passed and none of the projects authorized have been built, nothing has changed.

Meanwhile, perfectly good water continues to flow to the sea.

Jo Ann Rebane is a member of The Union Editorial Board. Her views are her own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members.


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