Water is a big part of our life on the Delta which is a good portion of the supply for the entire State. Flowing past the house guided by the levees that were constructed by the Chinese people after they built the Railroads. While sitting out on the deck looking at and over the river my thoughts once again centered on the rain. The prediction is the squall will last over the weekend and possibly into Tuesday of next week, it’s the rainy season so we expect it. Many of the reservoirs are nearing capacity, some are releasing water to make room for the spring melt. The snow level in the Sierra’s has reached 125% of “normal” (I take issue with that word because there is no normal rainfall here), and will soon be cascading down the slopes in its historic waterways. Releasing the water from the Dams does not mean we receive too much rain instead lowering the level is merely making way for more due to a lack of storage in the State. November 2014 proposition 1 was passed, a $7.5 Billion dollar water bond meant to invest in our water system. One selling point was it would finance more storage by building new Dams, raising existing Dams, and creating more storage. That’s a lot of money and it takes time to prioritize the projects as to which are the most beneficial for public safety, health, and the droughts.
We have over 2,000 dams in the State, some large and others small, most were built prior to 1980. Unfortunately, they were all built wrong with little thought put into their long-lasting effects. Hindsight is 100% but that is how we learn to improve as we progress. All of the Dams with a few exceptions were constructed in the path of flowing rivers, in other words, they stop the flow. One exception is the San Luis Reservoir West of Los Banos located in a deep valley of the Diablo Range. There are no natural water sources feeding the man-made lake, it is fed by a diversion of the California Aqueduct which flows nearby. This reservoir is what is known as an “off-stream” Dam, it doesn’t impede the flow of a natural river. Environmentalists are pushing for more off stream Dams to be built and there is at least one that was on the drawing board until May 2018. Temperance Flat is located East of Fresno/Clovis in the central valley, it was to be fed by one of the same rivers that feed the Delta. The San Joaquin River flows south to north its headwaters are far up in the Sierra’s with many contributing streams, it is a hard working river, there are 10 dams on it. As much sense as the Temperance Flat project made, it was scuttled, pros and cons got in their own way.
One of the attractive attributes of an off-stream reservoir is it allows migrating fish to go around the dam to their spawning areas deep in the mountains. Up until the dams were built the Salmon fishery in the San Francisco Bay area was vibrant, it is said that during the peak of the run the fish were so numerous it looked to be possible to walk across the river on their backs. There are no Dams in the State that allow the fish to swim freely to the sandy streams to lay their eggs. They must be trucked around the Dams, or as in Oroville captured and the roe is harvested for establishing higher up.
Eighty percent of the water in the Delta is sent south to the central valley farms, and further on to southern California, that leaves 20% flowing through the Delta. There is no lack of finger pointing, name calling, and misstatements when it comes to the water wars in this state. One point of contention is the accusation that a full 50% of our water is flushed out to sea through the Golden Gate, it is a false narrative. Being more accurate 50% of the 20% that is left in the Delta to support the ecosystem, 10% is the actual number, it fluctuates depending upon the conditions of the ocean and the flow from the mountains.
That 10% is obviously unknown to the people who claim it is 50%, used as a hydraulic dam at the Carquinez Strait to hold the sea water back. The more pressure from the ocean the more water needed, without it the entire Delta would become salt water and when pumped south it would not only destroy pumping equipment but if used in the fields nothing would ever grow there again.
One often repeated reply is the suggestion to build a Dam across the Straits, on the surface, it seems as if it may be the logical solution, it isn’t. A Dam would not serve well due to it’s a shipping waterway, the large ships enter under the Golden Gate Bridge and wind their way through the Bays on their way to Stockton, Sacramento and dozens of facilities bordering the rivers. The Dam would have to be equipped with locks, which isn’t a problem in itself, it’s the Dam. A lot of debris and silt flows with the river on its journey out of the mountains, such an enormous amount upstream of the Dam would silt up within 10 years. Constant dredging would have to be done, but even that creates a problem, what is to be done with the silt that is toxic waste? Mercury used during the Gold Rush of the 1800s has been coming down with the runoff for the past 20+ years, embedded in the silt it would have to be dealt with. There would be no way for the migrating sea life to reach their breeding grounds. Dams are expensive to build, and over the long term more to maintain.
The productivity of the farms in the Central Valley is often cited as the reason for demanding more water, it’s a fair point but not as critical as we are led to believe. One acre foot of water in the farms employs eight farm workers, one acre-foot in a large city employs 8,000, on the other hand, the water used in the fields feeds 8,000 people, those are justifiable figures that offset one another. Farming in the state contribute 2-3% of the yearly gross product, it is conceivable that if all farming is eliminated in the state it would be hardly noticeable in state funding. That may be true but the effect it would have on the small towns would be devastating, there are far too many jobs dependent upon the farms for it to stop. This is a moot point that hardly deserves to be mentioned, but it is interesting when realized as fact.
Water is one of my passions, I was asked once by a young man what he could do to become more self-reliant. My reply to him was a suggestion to learn as much as he can about water, it leads to everything in the world. There have been many attempts to bring more water to the dry west. suggestions and some attempts have been made to transport water from long distances, use the Great Lakes as a source, the Mississippi River, or pump water from the Columbia River. Besides being rejected at every turn there is a very good reason it cannot be done. Cost, when water is pumped over 300-400 miles it becomes too cost prohibited, have you ever tried to carry a five-gallon jug of water one mile up a slope? That takes a lot of energy, now just imagine thousands of gallons per minute in a 20-foot diameter pipe, water would attain the cost of gasoline in short order.
There have been many proposals to bring water to us, the latest is to construct two 30 foot diameter pipes to bypass the Delta, hopefully, after 30 years of battle, it may not come to fruition. There was a plan during the 1950s to flood 1/2 the state of Montana and distribute water to the Western States from there, it would have taken 9 nuclear power plants to supply the power for all of the pumps.
Thanks for reading and sharing my blog, will the water situation be solved not only in California but from the 100th parallel west which is affected by the droughts as well? I don’t believe it has a solution, oh there’s plenty of water but with thousands of water districts involved they will never come to a common conclusion. Our situation is not only involving the state’s watershed but it includes part of the runoff from the Rocky Mountains delivered via the Colorado River. I could go on for many more pages but this is a good place to come to an end. Thanks for reading, and study water, a good starting place is to read the book “Cadillac Desert” it connects water throughout the country and explains how it is all related. Thanks again.
Jacques Lebec Natural Self-Reliance