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Dam officials should’ve listened to those warnings about Oroville

Climate change didn’t produce California’s winter flooding that abruptly ended a devastating drought. That weather swing is simply how California works.

California has endured rotating cycles of moist and dry durations all through its historical past. If there are weeks of deluge, a extreme drought is on the best way. It occurs each decade or so.

However local weather change will deliver extra frequent and sturdy cycles of utmost climate. Guess on it.

“All of our local weather change calculations recommend wetter wets and drier dries,” says Jeffrey Mount, a water skilled on the Public Coverage Institute of California. He’s additionally founding director of the Heart for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis.

The quantity of precipitation will keep principally the identical, Mount says. However there’ll be much less snow and extra heat rain, and thus extra fast runoff into swollen rivers.

The current soaking, he continues, “is a window into the longer term. We’re going to have wild swings in climate.”

Former state water director Lester Snow agrees.

“We’ll transfer very dramatically from historic drought to historic precipitation — a protracted dry interval adopted by a file storm,” Snow says. “This may improve the necessity for off-stream and underground water storage.”

“We have to take a complete look into how we function our dams,” Mount says.

That’s an understatement after the near-catastrophe final weekend at Oroville Dam, the tallest dam within the nation and keystone of the State Water Project. It types California’s second largest reservoir.

With the lake degree rising quickly and water being launched into the Feather River as rapidly as attainable, an enormous crater was carved by erosion in the principle spillway. Then water started eroding a close-by emergency spillway that was unlined and had by no means beforehand been used.jeffrey-mount
Mount’s take: “It’s an emergency, so it’s finger-pointing time. Someone has to hang for all this. They’re out trying to find someone to hang. They might want to dig up the engineers who designed it and hang them, but they’re dead already.

“Was it bad design or bad maintenance? We don’t know. The evidence has been washed away. The crime scene has been wiped clean.”

Repairs to both spillways could cost $200 million or more.

“Spend whatever money it takes — whether it’s $150 million or $500 million,” Snow says. “Water districts have to pay. That’s my take. It’s the water users’ obligation.”

That means primarily the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

There’s bound to be squabbling about whether the repairs are mostly for storing and transferring water or controlling floods. The answer will largely determine whether it’s the water users who pay — such as farmers in the San Joaquin Valley and urbanites in Southern California — or everyone in the state.

I’m with Snow. Charge the water users. A spillway wouldn’t be needed at all without a dam to store water for farms, industry and homes.

But politicians and government would much rather build something new than fix what already exists. Like automobiles, dams need to be periodically serviced to stay operational. But unlike autos, you can’t just trade in a dam on a new one.

There’s another problem with California’s waterworks. They were built for a much smaller population. When Oroville Dam was approved by voters in 1960, fewer than 16 million people lived in California. Now the population is approaching 40 million.

There’s increasing demand for water — not only by people, but corporate growers who keep planting more nut orchards in the parched southern San Joaquin Valley, even during a drought.

Meanwhile, California’s salmon fishery has suffered as the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is used as an unnatural holding pond for water pumped south, confusing and chomping up young fish trying to reach the ocean.
Agriculture gulps 80% of California’s developed water. At some point — and we’re long past it — California should start zoning for types of crops in the driest parts of the state. We zone for shopping malls, waste dumps and residential neighborhoods. Why not crop types?

There was one ray of sunshine from the Trump administration Tuesday.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the Oroville Dam breakdown “is a textbook example of why we need to pursue a major infrastructure package in Congress.”

Gov. Jerry Brown asked President Trump to pitch in with federal aid to deal with the Oroville emergency and flooding throughout California. The governor quickly got a positive reply. No tacky political games.

Now if Trump could just join Brown in fighting climate change.

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