State Issues

State has been sitting on $2.7 billion for four years. It’s time to build a dam

Lawmakers and supporters stand on the levee above the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District canal during a press conference in 2014 near Maxwell, near where Sites Reservoir would be built – if approved by the California Water Commission.
Lawmakers and supporters stand on the levee above the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District canal during a press conference in 2014 near Maxwell, near where Sites Reservoir would be built – if approved by the California Water Commission. rpench@sacbee.com

California residents have continued to support funding to build our state’s water storage infrastructure. This is not surprising, because Californians know the value of water.

We’ve learned to adapt in years of drought. We’ve become more savvy about conserving and managing our most valuable resource. California is the No. 1 agricultural state in the country. We depend on every ounce of rain we get, so we understand that our water storage infrastructure needs to be built now.

In this state, we’ve long observed recurring seasons of high rain and snow along with years of drought. That is why we have been advocating consistently for more investment in our outdated water infrastructure that is badly needed in a state that continues to grow.

Despite our desperate need for water storage, some Sacramento politicians and unelected bureaucrats at the California Water Commission have neglected the will of the people of our state by preventing storage projects from being built.

Recently, Congress passed critical funding to raise the Shasta Dam, and to fund two leading water storage projects: Temperance Flat and Sites Reservoir.

Raising the Shasta Dam by 20 feet would add 600,000 acre feet of water storage to California's largest reservoir.

The California Water Commission – tasked with administering funding for water projects – cannot be allowed to continue to ignore our water-storage needs.

In 2014, the overwhelming majority of Californians approved $2.7 billion in funding for water storage projects. Even though nearly four years have passed since that vote, the Water Commission has refused to sign off on any new reservoir construction.

As we saw last winter, water storage isn’t just important for weathering droughts; it’s a matter of public safety during wet years. A recent study showed that severe winter storms have the potential to do more damage to California than a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Flooding is devastating and costly, and we need to be ready.

Increasing the height of Shasta Dam will allow better control of the water system. During the harvest season, instead of directing water to farmers who aren’t using it, water could be used to improve the health of our state’s ecosystems.

During droughts, farmers won’t have to fallow their fields for lack of water. Raising Shasta Dam will save time, money and the environment.

Studies from last July predict more rain – rather than snow, which reaches our rivers more slowly – is on the way to California each year. We are not ready for it, raising the specter of a replay of last winter when dam failures and crumbling levees wreaked havoc on California.

During the rainy season in 2016, trillions of gallons of water were flushed out into the ocean because we didn’t have the storage to capture all the rain we received. If the Sites Reservoir alone was built, we could have captured more than 586 billion gallons of water since October of last year, which is enough to provide water for more than 13 million California residents for an entire year.

Investing in our water infrastructure should be a priority for both Republicans and Democrats. Making sure we are preparing for years of drought during years of heavy rain or snow is our duty.

History has taught us that being unprepared is costly, deadly and devastating. Ensuring that available funding is actually invested in our storage and dams is our best bet for a stronger and better California.

Heath Flora (R-Ripon) represents the 12th Assembly district and is Chief Republican Whip. Vince Fong (R-Kern County) represents the 34th Assembly District and serves as Republican Whip.

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