Drought & Water Storage

The only conclusion you can reach from a few paragraphs in the recent story about the drought and water storage is that Los Angeles is smart and Sacramento is dumb.

As the article notes, Los Angeles has built enough water storage over the past several years to provide water through 2016 even under the present drought conditions, while Sacramento has built none.

While it is obvious that Los Angeles’ planning is based on their scarcity of water, and our lack of planning is based on an abundance of water, each assumption has exceptions and Sacramento is now living under such, with Folsom Lake becoming almost empty and the American River low enough to walk across, as many of us remember was the situation almost every summer before Folsom Dam was built.

As we have continually advocated, and as the original engineering done for the California State Water Project several decades ago called for, a higher Shasta Dam and building Auburn Dam would virtually end California’s drought and flood water problems.

We cannot count on abundance, as the current drought is making crystal clear.

For the long-term future we need the Auburn Dam, which Congressman Tom McClintock notes: “Ultimately, it will be constructed,” McClintock said. “The only question is if it’s built in time to prevent the (Sacramento flooding) calamity.” Sacramento Bee, “Auburn dam back in play as McClintock takes over House panel”, January 15, 2011

Additionally, for the absolute best storage, the raising of Shasta Dam from the current 600 feet high to the 800 feet high it was originally engineered to be, which would triple storage from the existing 4,552,000 acre feet to 13,890,000 acre feet.

We all know that the political will—as shown by public leadership in Los Angeles—to embark upon this type of water storage development for the Sacramento region does not appear to be on the horizon, but that is no reason for all of us not to continue to remind political leadership that there is a solution out there, and for them to continue calling for conservation without working for that solution, which could provide abundant water in wet years and enough water in dry years, is to continue failing a basic principle of public leadership; leadership.

David H. Lukenbill, Founder, American River Parkway Preservation Society

Sacramento Bee Article Referenced: California drought will test Jerry Brown, By David Siders and Matt Weiser, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014


  • Tom Armstrong

    David, Wholly coincidentally, I was just reading about what the City of London did in the 1860s to address their water problems of the time. They tackled their problems quickly and with zeal, to the astounding benefit of the city’s 3 million inhabitants — with great and positive other benefits that played out in the future. The water and sewer system there, built using 318 million bricks, serves the much-enlarged population [of 11 million?] today.

    I know I sound off-topic, but I’m not really. The world’s lessons on water-and-sewage issues are clear, Do as much as you can, at once, such that spin-off benefits can be taken advantage of in the future. As my book states it, make things ripe for the Rumsfeldian “known unknowns.” For our area, that can mean population growth or enlarged areas for agriculture. It can make us always ready for the seeming opposites of BOTH flooding and drought. And, whatever tunnelling gets done is sure to be cheaper now than in a more-crowded future.

    Clearly, your report shows that L.A. is being wisely Rumsfeldian [to my surprise], whereas we need to get off the stick make things happen for the future.

    [The book I’m reading is “With Charity for All.” The London example is one of things done right. In the book there are other examples — mostly in the Third World — where providing clean water is done massively, tragically wrong. All this is from the first chapter; the whole of the book focuses on the mayhem and befuddlement at non-profit organizations, most all of which are badly incentivized in operation of achieve the lofty goals they promise.]

    • David H. Lukenbill

      Thanks for the comment Tom, and I also have that book, With Charity for All.

      It is a great read and sustains an argument I have been making about social service nonprofits for years; conduct vigorous evaluations to determine if they are really effective, which is the best thing to do—not only for donors but for the recipients of services, who deserve the best that a program can do.

  • Dan Allison

    I can reach a lot of other conclusions. The water crisis is not a crisis of infrastructure but of policy and behavior. I don’t know why the all of us should pay huge sums of money to build and expand dams, just so that no one has to change what they are doing. We can reduce domestic use, which mostly goes to lawns and not household use, and end irrigation of low productivity agricultural lands on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, and largely end this crisis. Dams cannot effectively serve the conflicting purposes of flood control and water storage. Folsom is empty in part because it is always drawn down in the fall and winter to provide flood control, and the managers realized too late that the more important function this year was storage. There is always a tension between flood control and storage, and building more dams and raising dams doesn’t change that. What changes that is a willingness to living within our means, and the natural abundance of nature.

    I rather like my wild and scenic rivers, and can think of no reason I should give them up for the selfishness of others who don’t want to change their behavior and public policy.