We had a little rain here, not much – just enough to get our hopes up and then we got a heat wave. I also got in the mail the list of state ballot propositions we’ll be voting on in November. It includes proposition 1, a $7.12 billion bond measure for water projects. Seems like a good idea. California hasn’t spent any significant money on water infrastructure in a few decades and with the current drought we could use more water.
It does some things I really approve of like, $725 million for water recycling and advanced treatment technologies. There is money for lots of good things – water way clean ups, watershed protection, ground water clean up and protection and even a bit to improve flood control (oddly enough a big problem in the state). All good stuff and if that was all that was in the proposal, I’d vote for it. No question.
It’s your basic feel good legislation – let’s do something to fix the water supply. Here take this big box of money and do it! I imagine some good is likely to be done, even after all the expected government screw-ups, mismanagement, litigation and other problems projects like this can cause.
But there is one thing in the bill that really bothers me: $2.7 billion for water storage projects – dams and reservoirs. Several problems with that in my mind. First, $2.7 billion won’t go as far as you think. Sounds like a lot, but after all the costs, you’re going to get maybe one or two dams – provided the environmentalist groups eventually lose the court battles some time in the next twenty years.
Then there is the little problem of how are you going to fill these dams with water? We already have enough storage in the state for about three years and that’s is running dry – has been for about a decade. Creating water is the problem, not storing it.
The suggestion that we build more surface storage is a bit like saying, “I am running out of money so I’ll open two more checking accounts to hold my cash.” If you’re running low on cash, having more places to store what little you have isn’t going to help. What will help is creating more cash for yourself – either by spending less or earning more (or better yet, both. Radical concept, I know).
I’ll research the bond measure a bit more and will likely vote in favor, even with it’s flaws. We need to do something and this measure has enough good stuff in there to get started. The problem with the money for the dams is likely to become moot anyway as the drought moves into years four and five and as the dam builders run into opposition at each new dam site they propose. Likely the dam money will either not get spent or will be diverted to improve existing dams – either increasing capacity or doing seismic retrofits to prevent failures during earthquakes. There are a number of dams in my county that are running below design capacity because of weakness in them that make they vulnerable to collapse in an earthquake. I can see the water district asking for and getting some of that 2.7 billion to shore up our dams with the justification, “We could store more water right here if we do a little retrofit.” $50 million here and there could improve storage without damming up more rivers.
Still I think the money would be better used improving recycling efforts and working on practical large-scale solar-powered desalination plants.
The bond measure is unlikely to have a short-term effect and likely only a minimal long-term effect. Real relief from the drought will come in the form of water conservation, recycling, desalination and rain.
Till next week,