There has been a lot of talk about dams lately and rightly so. The emergency at Oroville Dam, as well as other storm-related damage to the state’s infrastructure, reminded us of the awesome power of nature and the effort people have taken over the years to control it.
We support the Governor’s call today to improve dam safety and move forward with inspections. The inspection process should proceed carefully and be conducted in a way that protects the water collected that is helping bring the extended drought to an end. We also agree with the Governor’s request to expedite Proposition 1 funding already designated for flood control, that should help lessen the near-term challenges water managers face.
However, we profoundly disagree with irresponsible voices that want to turn the state’s emergency into an excuse to halt building new surface storage as well as shutter existing dams.
The underlying assumption is that all dams are inherently unsafe. That is simply untrue. But for all their bluster there is an inescapable truth these dam opponents can’t shake. Countless lives have been saved and an incalculable amount of property damage has been prevented by the dams that help regulate California’s uneven water supply. That alone makes them worthwhile but the benefits don’t stop there. Dams also provide us with a dependable water supply for families and farms, inexpensive power generation and recreation opportunities.
The “no-dams-ever” crowd wants you to think we must choose between surface water and ground water. That is a false, and dangerous, choice. Dams help regulate excess flows during stormy weather allowing water managers to direct stored water to facilities that help recharge our groundwater. This connection between surface and groundwater, was recognized 100 years ago when many of our current dams were planned, in part, to help end groundwater overdraft.
If we learn one lesson from this winter’s historic storms it should be that we must do everything possible to store today’s water for use tomorrow – that includes the expansion of some existing facilities as well as new projects such as Sites Reservoir and Temperance Flat. We just need to stay focused and not allow the naysayers to take advantage of the recent news to divert public attention from the real water supply and flood control needs we have.