Commentary: Editorial boards agree: California needs more storage


Issue Date: February 5, 2014
By Dave Kranz
Despite a dusting of new snow in the Sierra last week, state surveyors found a record-low snowpack—only 12 percent of average for the date.
Photo/Department of Water Resources

It was another futile trip to the Sierra for state snow surveyors last week. Their physical measurements confirmed what electronic sensors have reported: Despite welcome storms in recent days, the snowpack remains puny, just 12 percent of average for this time of year—and a record low for the date.

A few weeks earlier, the Jan. 3 snow survey brought the 2013-14 drought into the popular consciousness and touched off a wave of newspaper editorials about what the dry weather portends—and how California should better prepare for future droughts.

In newspapers big and small, in Northern, Central and Southern California, with editorial boards from both the left and right sides of the aisle, one solution consistently rose to the surface: California needs to move now to create more water storage.

"Drought is never far away in California, and the state requires a more dependable approach to meeting water needs than hoping for rain," the Riverside Press-Enterprise editorialized in early January, adding that the state will need to boost water storage capacity in reservoirs and underground aquifers.

"Collecting and storing water during wet years for use later is a critical element in any anti-drought approach," the Press-Enterprise said.

In mid-December, Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters noted the prediction by meteorologists that climate change will reduce California's winter snowfall and replace it with rainfall—and if that's true, he wrote, "California will need more man-made storage" to replace the reduced snowpack.

"Federal and state water officials are planning to expand major reservoirs, such as Shasta and San Luis, to gain marginal increases in capacity," Walters said, "but we really need at least 1 million to 2 million acre-feet of new storage, even without climate change effects, as the current drought proves."

An editorial in the Modesto Bee noted that the real solutions for coping with dry years "go far beyond telling people to stop watering their lawns or to cut short their showers. The only realistic solution is to create more water storage."

"Until there is enough political will to create more storage aboveground and below," the editorial said, "we're going to find ourselves dealing with water crises every few years."

In Northern California, the Appeal-Democrat in Marysville editorialized about the need for "some version of a serious Northern California water storage-building proposal … that will help both our communities and our agriculture weather future droughts."

Two of the state's largest daily papers, the Los Angeles Times and the San Jose Mercury News, each endorsed storage among a suite of solutions to long-term California water supply problems, although the Times did so conditionally. The Mercury News lent more straightforward support for water storage: "California's water solution has to include more storage; ideas like raising existing dams are a good way to do that."

Perhaps the most full-throated call for new storage came from the Fresno Bee. In an editorial shortly after Gov. Brown declared a state of emergency due to drought, the Bee described the California water system as "antiquated" and as "in dire need of increased storage."

The Fresno editorial then anticipated two criticisms of new storage proposals, and responded to both.

"Many environmentalists oppose dams, saying they are harmful to wildlife and habitat. But well-planned and well-placed dam projects can solve or at least limit many environmental problems," the Bee wrote, and then noted that new storage often is criticized as too expensive.

"Given what water will cost in the future and the economic losses California will suffer if it doesn't increase storage capacity, a dam at Temperance Flat, for example, would end up being a bargain," the newspaper said.

A columnist for the Ventura County Star, Tim Herdt, wrote in early January that "it has historically taken periods of drought to create the political conditions necessary to provoke action on water policy." Pointing to the predictions about the impact of climate change on the Sierra snowpack, he added that "if nature's snowpack storage system is literally going to melt away in March instead of June, at least some of that storage must be replaced by man-made means."

The latest snowpack survey reinforces the severity of the current drought and underlines the state's critical need to respond fully to the combination of dry weather, population growth and environmental regulation that has added more stress to an already overburdened water system—and opinion leaders around California have begun to take notice and to speak out.

As the Tracy Press put it in its own editorial: "It is time to discuss creating more storage around the state to save up water for a non-rainy day."

(Dave Kranz is editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at dkranz@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.