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Action Alert from Steve Evans, Friends of the River: Ten Problems With the Water Bond Proposal

July 29, 2008

Dear Friends,
It’s time once again for the conservation, fishing, and Native American communities to let their voices be heard in opposition to the unneeded, destructive, and budget busting $9.3 billion dam and canal-building bond proposed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Please sign your organization on to these two important letters opposing the Schwarzenegger/Feinstein water bond. The first letter is to the Governor and Senator Feinstein. The second letter is to Senate Pro Tem Perata and Assembly Speaker Bass.

Last year, more than 50 organizations signed on to a letter opposing the Governor’s previous water bond. Let’s see if we can include even more organizations on this letter.

Please sign your organization on by providing your name, title, and group affiliation to Soren Jespersen by replying to soren@friendsoftheriver.org no later than COB Friday, Aug. 1. For more information about these letters, please contact Soren or Steve Evans at sevans@friendsoftheriver.org, phone: (916) 442-3155 x221. Both letters are attached and the letter to the Governor/Feinstein is copied below.


Steven L. Evans
Conservation Director
Friends of the River
1418 20th Street - Suite 100, Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 442-3155, Ext. 221
Fax; (916) 442-3396
Email: sevans@friendsoftheriver.org
Web Site: www.friendsoftheriver.org

Letter to Feinstein and Schwarzenegger

Dear Senator Feinstein and Governor Schwarzenegger:

The undersigned conservation, recreation, and Native American organizations respectfully oppose your proposed $9.3 billion water bond. Although we appreciate the provisions in the bond that would fund water conservation and watershed restoration, the bond could also provide significant funding for destructive and unneeded new and expanded surface storage dams, as well as the Peripheral Canal.

Our primary concerns about the bond are:

1. New dams are not needed. Wise investments in increased water conservation and efficiency, expanded water reclamation and recycling programs, and improved groundwater management can easily meet our current and future water needs at a fraction of the cost. Funding of these programs now would produce virtually immediate results in response to the drought while funding of new dams would not produce new water for decades. Allocating billions for unneeded new dams prioritizes limited public dollars away from other more cost effective and environmentally beneficial water programs.

2. New dams are not a solution to the drought. Dams do not create water, they simply capture rainwater and snowmelt. If any of the proposed dams existed today, the reservoirs would likely be as empty as our existing reservoirs due to the drought and the state’s primary focus on exporting water for consumptive purposes. If construction of any of these dams began today, they would not provide a drop of water for decades. Increased investments in conservation, efficiency, recycling, and reclamation could produce savings and water almost immediately.

3. Water conservation and efficiency are cheaper and more effective alternatives. Every dollar invested in urban water conservation produces four times more water than twelve dollars invested in new dams. Current and past investments in conservation and efficiency have reduced California’s per capita consumption of water by half in the last 40 years. And yet, there is much more that can be done to reclaim, recycle, conserve, and more efficiently utilize our existing water supplies.

4. Dam costs are exorbitant and increasing daily. As currently proposed, the bond could provide as much as $5 billion for new or expanded dams. Current cost estimates for each new or expanded dam are in the billions of dollars and these estimates do not include actual escalated costs, including the rising price for raw materials and energy needed for construction, inflation, interest, and mitigation of environmental impacts. The public debt service on the proposed bond will cost taxpayers billions of dollars over the multi-year life span of the bond, at a time when the state and its taxpayers are already struggling to fund essential public services.

5. New dams and large reservoirs are ineffective and wasteful. The 2005 California Water Plan found that surface storage conservatively produces the least amount of water than any other water management option, including cloud seeding. The 1,400 existing dams in California already use the most effective dam sites. Because of this, many of the proposed dams will store no water during drought and relatively insignificant amounts of water during normal water years. For example, the proposed Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River would provide no additional water storage three years out of four. California’s major reservoirs already lose more than 2 million acre-feet of water every year from evaporation.

6. Dams are not a solution to global warming. Experts agree that our existing comprehensive system of dams can be operated to meet the hydrological changes caused by global warming. Large reservoirs created by new dams actually produce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Worse yet, many of the CALFED dam projects are energy losers and may force California to become more reliant on polluting energy sources (moving water is already the top energy use in the state). For example, the Sites and Los Vaqueros projects will require more power to pump water into the reservoirs than the facilities will produce when water is released downstream. The Temperance Flat dam will drown more existing power capacity than it will generate.

7. Local ratepayers who benefit most from new dams should pay for them, not state taxpayers. None of the dam projects under consideration are able to muster a majority vote in the California Legislature. As long as there is a possibility that state and federal taxpayers will pick up the tab to build expensive new dams, many local water agencies will likely decline to invest in expensive new dams. Where local water agencies have determined that a new dam is essential for local needs, the local ratepayers and beneficiaries paid for the new dam (as is the case with the Metropolitan Water District’s Diamond Valley Dam, the San Diego Water Authority’s Olivenhain Dam, and Contra Costa Water District’s Los Vaqueros Dam – all built in the last 15 years).

8. Dam studies are not completed. We don’t really know how much these dams truly cost, how much water will actually be produced, who will receive and pay for the water, and the true extent of their actual environmental impacts. Funding dams before legally required environmental and engineering studies are complete and their true costs are known is bad public policy and violates the spirit if not intent of our environmental laws.

9. The dams may cause great environmental harm. The Temperance Flat Dam will drown up to 5,000 acres of public recreation land, wildlife habitat, and Native American cultural sites in the San Joaquin River Gorge. The Sites Project will drown 14,000 acres of wildlife habitat and possibly divert enough water from the Sacramento River to harm its ecosystem and endangered fisheries and wildlife. Raising Shasta Dam and enlarging its reservoir will drown the cultural homeland of the Winnemen Wintu Tribe and violate state law requiring the protection of the McCloud River. Proponents claim that the new dams could be operated to benefit the environment but numerous state and federal court decisions prove that government agencies are incapable of operating dams in compliance with environmental laws when pressured by water interests and elected officials to provide more water for consumption.

10. The bond could fund the initial steps to building the controversial Peripheral Canal. The bond would provide nearly $2 billion to facilitate Delta “conveyance.” California voters overwhelmingly rejected the Peripheral Canal in 1982. Any conveyance that facilitates exports of fresh water from the Delta at current or increased levels is little more than a death sentence for the Delta ecosystem and its endangered fisheries. In addition, improved conveyance will harm Delta agriculture and perpetuate water quality violations in the Delta.

New dams and the Peripheral Canal truly represent a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem. We respectfully urge you to reconsider your support for this budget-busting and environmentally destructive bond measure. In addition, we urge you to support legislation introduced by Senate Pro Tem Don Perata to appropriate $800 million in bonds already approved by the voters to expedite funding for water conservation, efficiency, recycling, and reclamation programs. Passage of this legislation will provide nearly immediate relief from water shortages caused by the drought.

Thank you for you consideration.


Steven L. Evans
Conservation Director
Friends of the River
Sacramento, CA


Schwarzenegger and Feinstein’s Proposal Broken Down:

$2,000,000,000 for Water Supply Reliability: For regional water supply and conservation projects that implement an integrated regional water management plan and to support regional and interregional connectivity and water management.

$1,900,000,000 for Delta Sustainability: For projects that support delta sustainability options – levees, water quality, infrastructure and to protect and enhance the sustainability of the Delta ecosystem.

$3,000,000,000 for Statewide Water System Operational Improvement: For water storage projects to improve state water system operations and provide net improvement in ecosystem and water quality conditions.

$1,335,000,000 for Conservation And Watershed Protection: For ecosystem and watershed protections and restoration, invasive species removal, watershed restoration in fire damages areas, and for fish passage improvement and dam removal.

$800,000,000 for Groundwater Protection And Water Quality: For groundwater protection, small community wastewater treatment, stormwater management and water quality, and coastal water quality.

$250,000,000 for Water Recycling.