What are California’s Priorities for Water Infrastructure?

The discovery of a 250-foot-long hole in the spillway at the Oroville Dam begs the question of just where state priorities lie when it comes to water infrastructure.
Governor Brown and CA WaterFix boosters are proposing a massive tunnel project to extract up to 2/3rds of the flow of the Sacramento River, transferring a public and ecological good to be used largely by water-intensive industrial agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley. Estimates of the project cost run as high as $60 billion, and the project’s negative impacts on the environment, tourism, Delta and Coastal fisheries, and local agriculture have been well-documented.
Meanwhile, photos and video of the Oroville Dam spillway, including chunks of concrete being thrown in the air by the force of the water and obvious downstream impacts from silt as the spillway erodes, are a graphic reminder of the sorry state of far too many important local components of our water system. In 2013, the American Society of Engineers reported 678 “high hazard” dams in California, and almost half of them had no emergency plan in place.
Ratepayers and taxpayers deserve some answers from Governor Brown and the Department of Water Resources on the state of California’s dams. Are sufficient resources being put into maintenance, inspection, and emergency planning, and if not, why? How are assessments and repairs prioritized? How will existing infrastructure stand up to the “drought and deluge” weather variability that we face from climate disruption?
We call on Governor Brown and the DWR to meet its social and fiscal responsibilities, and scrap the Delta Tunnel project in favor of a comprehensive program of repair and implementation of conservation-focused practices for all water users. The state’s fiscal responsibility means that ratepayers should not be on the hook for multi-billion dollar projects that benefit just a few well-connected individuals, corporations or industries while more immediate and local repairs go undone. Our social compact means that water planning needs to be made with climate and environment as part of the equation, and that no one should be worried about living downstream from a dam.
Through the drought years we’ve seen the majority of Californians make many changes to their property and to their daily practices to conserve water. Now, as a high-water year takes its toll on the Oroville Dam, are Governor Brown and the DWR going to hold up their end of the bargain and make sure that existing water infrastructure is safe and well-maintained? Or will they continue to chase the Delta “pipe dream?”


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