GrokSurf's San Diego

Local observations on water, environment, technology, law & politics

New dams and reservoirs: not in our back yards?

Posted by George J Janczyn on August 19, 2009

Low water at Shasta Dam and reservoir. Image source UCLA, Elizabeth Dawson

Regarding today’s LA Times report on Governor Schwarzenegger’s demand that new reservoirs and dams be included in California water legislation addressing the water crisis:

In 1972, the influential book The limits to growth by Donella H. Meadows graphically portrayed how exponential growth in human population (with attendant resource consumption) can reach a stage where it will be too late to avert a monumental catastrophe (I think this book contributed greatly to the sustainability movement).

Are we approaching that point where sheer numbers of a growing population and its increasing demand on natural resources can no longer be sustained (or even that survival itself is at stake) — even if prices were increased to control demand and everybody were to cease excessive consumption of water — unless we build new water storage infrastructure? If we have already overallocated existing water storage reserves, where will the additional needed water come from if not new sources of runoff?

What are your thoughts on this? Please leave your comment below.

8 Responses to “New dams and reservoirs: not in our back yards?”

  1. Our water use is WAY about human “needs” — i.e., 200 gal/cap/day in SoCal. Most of that water goes to lawns. We don’t need new dams for urban consumers. Arnie is proposing them for farmers — rather, his Repub. friends in the Valley. Politics, not economincs.

  2. Water Drinker said

    Zetland’s way is one way to look at it. But there is a different way.

    We have to get past 20th century thinking and realize that in the 21st century, the game is changing. The driving force is climate change.

    Climate change means less snow for one thing; and the Sierra snowpack has always been California’s largest reservoir. We depend upon the slowly melting snow to feed the streams and rivers in the summertime. That snowpack is projected to become smaller and smaller over the years. Some scientists project nearly completely gone by the end of this century.

    Less snow, perhaps, but not necessarily less precipitation. This means that there will be more rain and less snow; and the rain events are projected to become heavier. So we need a way to catch that precipitation and store it, not only for water supply but possibly for flood control as well.

    Have we reached the end of the line on our natural resources? Perhaps. I do believe if we all used water conservatively, and with judicous water transfers and retirement of marginal ag land, California would be able to meet it’s water needs for the next several decades, at least. However, if the population continues to grow exponentially as projected, we are going to have to do something to augment our water supply. More dams and reservoirs, plus conservation and everything else.

    Population growth is the real elephant in the room, if you ask me.

  3. Steve said

    It’s time to remember where we live. Going forward I would make residential, ornamental lawns and non-native plants illegal. Same for businesses but with certain exemptions, say for golf courses. If we can figure out how to de-salinate and also have a gray water system in a way that makes economic sense, maybe we could bring those features back. It’s all about living within our means and resources.

  4. Philip said

    It is important to recognize that the supply and demand curves for water are out of synch in the arid west. Concerns about water quality, climate change, and environmental protection have exacerbated this problem. Better markets, conservation, and, yes, storage/conveyance facilities are all part of a solution. If the only thing a proposed dam would do is to increase water supplies, it is foolish from an economic or environmental perspective. However, don’t damn all dams (!) prima facie. Some may be worth building.

  5. Ben said

    I agree with Steve. Before we ever move forward with new surface storage, all other (cost effective) conservation options should be exhausted. Don’t try to sell me a new dam when thousands of properties across the state have loads of turf that is over irrigated. What we need is real leadership; a governor who could tell the people the uncomfortable truth about water in California: we are going to have to make due with less into the future. that means having landscapes that are appropriate for the arid climate we have. Do all the thousands of business parks, strip malls etc really need to keep up their appearance via green turf? There is an incredible amount of conservation potential in every sector.

  6. Jerry said

    Too much emphasis is put on population and its growth. Something around 10% (probably less) of all water consumed in California goes to we humans; and that’s for drinking, swimming pools, watering the lawn, washing the dishes and cars and all the other things some 35 million folks do to get along these days. Roughly another 10% goes to M&I (that’s municipal and industrial) meaning industrial facilities making everything from silicon chips to paper; and municipal meaning the local municipal golf course, school yard, park, etc. Where does the rest go?? To our agricultural sector. Yes, about 80% goes to grow things. Some slight changes in their usage would allow our population to double over the next 50 years with no great strain on the water supply.

    That’s not to say I favor doubling the population of California. Let’s just keep in perspective where the water goes.

  7. Watcher said

    Anyway you slice it, our constantly growing population is eventually going to run up against our dwindling water supplies, which are only dwindling faster due to climate change. For now,
    switching out lawns for xzeroscaping and forcing farmers to become more water efficient, instead of switching from annual crops to almond orchands that need more water every year, makes the most sense. But eventually we are going to either get some kind of control over population growth, or find new and less energy intensive ways to desalinate seawater and repurify and reuse wastewater, and even them we may run out of water here.

  8. Philip said

    Jerry, you are ignoring two things: one, the substantial amount of water devoted to environmental uses, which equals or exceeds that taken by agriculture; two, farmers do not drink that water; they use it to produce the things you and millions of others use and eat. True, a good portion of our state’s agricultural production is exported. Can you suggest some other place where those things can be produced more safely and with less waste? Or is that just somebody else’s problem?

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