2014-11-25 by Eric Wesselman, Executive Director for "The River Advocate", newsletter for the "Friends of the River (FOR)"
And Now the Tuolumne?!
As we all know, the drought has intensified the politics around water issues in the West and we are now facing an intense effort to take us back to the era of big dam building in California. One of the most disturbing aspects of this is the attack on the federal Wild and Scenic River System—the freshwater equivalent of our national parks. The U.S. House of Representatives has already voted twice to repeal Wild and Scenic status for a stretch of the Merced River to allow for the expansion of Lake McClure Reservoir behind Exchequer Dam, and the Senate is considering it as a provision in Senator Feinstein’s faux drought bill. This has never been done before and it never should. Congress has never de-listed a Wild and Scenic River to make room for a new dam or reservoir .
When this proposal first emerged as a bill carried by Congressman Denham in 2011, FOR vociferously opposed the idea of drowning more of the Merced River and warned that this would be a classic slippery slope by inviting similar efforts on other protected rivers. Evidence emerged last week that confirms this exact concern. A Modesto Bee editorial recommends repealing Wild and Scenic designation for the Tuolumne River in addition to the Merced so that Don Pedro can be enlarged in addition to Exchequer Dam [.pdf link at archive.org].
The fact that the Bee is talking about this in an editorial about Senator Feinstein’s bill suggests that this is a real idea being discussed and considered at high levels. In their 2011 editorial about the bill to de-designate the Merced, they said environmental groups like FOR were exaggerating and overreacting in voicing concern that this bill would be a bad precedent that could even lead to a similar proposal for the Tuolumne. Three years later, they are suggesting just that. In a state that already has more than 1,250 dams, we should not be entertaining proposals that undercut our nation’s most precious rivers and the Wild and Scenic River System at large [.pdf link at archive.org].
Better Solutions -
FOR and coalition partners released Wetter or Not: Recommendations to Ease the Current Drought and Prepare for the Next One. These recommendations can help ensure that the funds provided by the water bond are spent wisely instead of wasting billions to pour concrete in a river and hoping for rain. State and federal decision makers can take advantage of these solutions and invest in modern and sustainable solutions that support the health of our rivers and the economy. Water conservation, along with water recycling and stormwater management, can develop millions of acre-feet of new water supplies and cost-effective drought-resistant supplies can actually help us restore our rivers and fisheries. You can read the report and Executive Summary at: [http://www.friendsoftheriver.org/conserve] [https://archive.today/uoXLu]
"River Currents: Another Set of Headlines"
2014-11-25 from Ron Stork, Senior Policy Advocate for "Friends of the River (FOR)":
Well, the California water world is abuzz with a fresh set of headlines: Senator Feinstein’s lame-duck Congress "drought" bill collapsed.
Taking advantage of all the headlines on the California drought and the dramatic delivery reduction of Federal Central Valley Project (CVP) deliveries from the Delta and from Friant Dam, the House of Representatives passed legislation this summer wresting water from Delta and north of Delta rivers and water users, pre-empting state water rights, stripping away environmental protections, and de-designating a portion of the Wild & Scenic Merced River.
For the southern San Joaquin Valley congressmen and their California GOP allies, it was payback time: the arid south gets even with the more verdant north and those nature-loving folks in the Bay Area. For Senator Feinstein it was just about working to secure more water for friends and political allies in the southern San Joaquin Valley.
The question was, what would the full Senate do in response.
The negotiations on the drought bill were secret, but as the bill neared its final stages, it was shared with Congressmen outside of the valley. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) is reported to have commented that he saw two drafts, “one was very concerning and one was absolutely horrific.” The Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times editorialized against the process and the product of the negotiations [.pdf link at archive.org].
It’s not clear what caused Senator Feinstein to drop the lame-duck Congress effort, but press accounts suggest that Representatives Mike Thompson (D-St Helena), Jared Huffman, and retiring Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) met with Senator Barbara Boxer shortly before Senator Feinstein announced the collapse of the effort.
Perhaps U.S. Senate tradition prevailed: it takes support from both of a state’s senators to move legislation aimed at a single state---and Senator Boxer had dug in her heels and withdrawn her support for the bill.
In the meantime, ocean conditions that are thought to have set up this intense California drought have changed and some gentle rains have begun to fall on many parts of California. Maybe that’s the real solution to drought.
More Mischief in the Lame Duck?
The powerful southern San Joaquin Valley Congressional delegation was not happy with the loss of Senate support for moving the drought bill in the post-election Congress (that’s called a lame-duck session for those of you who are rusty on your high school civics classes).
Among their members are House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), so they are said to be considering attaching the drought bill to must-pass legislation like the perennially late now-omnibus appropriations (spending) bill that keeps the Federal government open for business.
Congress adjourns sine die on December 11, so until then the measure is potentially alive. This would not be a bad time to remind your member of Congress and your state’s two senators to keep the California drought bill out of any such legislation.
Looking to the New Year -
Senator Feinstein promised that her drought bill would be job one when the new Congress returns in January. She also promised the “regular order,” that is that the bill would be heard before the Senate Energy Committee and debated in the new GOP-led Senate.
That’s good, but the debate is going to be a painful and unrealistic one judging from comments in the Sonora Union Democrat from the Chair of the House Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Water and Power, Rep. Tom McClintock, (R-Elk Grove): "[Senator Feinstein is] constrained by members of her own party who are on the extreme left. They want to blow up any proposal that would create more storage, and that’s been a serious obstacle in these negotiations."
Rep. McClintock is talking about dams. The extreme left is probably you and your friends and neighbors. A true believer, Rep. McClintock believes that California can dam its way to his new “era of abundance.” And for him, the drought bill is all about dams.
And he’s not too charitable about his view of folks who believe, as President Ronald Reagan believed, that Federal dam projects should not be authorized until they have undergone and passed environmental review and arrangements completed for the costs to be passed through to the beneficiaries.
Nor is the good Congressman much aware of just how little new water the new dams will capture---and for what cost. For example, the water-supply debt carried by the CVP would be almost tripled by an unsubsidized Temperance Flat Dam. The modeled benefit: a yield increase of one percent. That’s the law of diminishing returns in action in California.
Of course the rhetoric of the “regular order” hearings will promise cool, clean, water---and in abundance. The reality will be huge costs, little water, and another wrecked California river or two. And our nation’s Wild & Scenic River System will be made available to anyone with some idea to bring dams and reservoirs to free-flowing formerly protected waters.
The hearings will be ugly.
But perhaps the Senate tradition of agreement will prevail. That means that Senator Barbara Boxer will be the gatekeeper for weeding out bad ideas. It’s probably a good time to talk and write her. Probably a lot of us. And she’s going to need a lot of help.
Our rivers need friends who can help to shed some light on what is at stake and why it makes little sense to try to dam our way to Paradise. We did that in the California dam-building era a half a century ago. It’s time to protect what’s left. That’s not a difficult message.