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Works and Days

Fish Instead of People, Ideologies without Consequences

March 31st, 2014 - 12:08 am

The once envisioned reservoirs on the Klamath were cancelled. The supplemental lakes on the Sacramento and American were as well. There was to be no twin wet-year storage lake south of the San Luis Reservoir. No Temperance Flat was to augment Millerton Lake. Such construction was considered far too 19th century in it unnatural building and damming and canaling.

Of course, it was. But so was the most unnatural project of them all, Hetch Hetchy, the engineering marvel that brought the purest water in America by the force of gravity over 160 miles into the Bay Area, making the dense corridor of San Francisco to Silicon Valley what it is today.

Had we finished the California Water Project and the Central Valley Project, or had population tapered off at 30 million, or had global warming been real and created a Central and Southern California tropics with 40 inches a year of rain, then we would not be courting ruin. But we grew and stopped building water storage at the same time and the climate remained what it always was.

Yet it was worse than that still. Our mountain reservoirs were intended for four grand purposes: to store water for agriculture, to store water for hydroelectric generation, to store water to prevent flooding below, and to store water for recreation in our newfound 40 or so Sierra and Northern California lakes.

Note what our forefathers did not envision. They did not foresee that this contemporary and far wealthier generation would not just abandon their plans, and thus make it dangerous for California to grow as it had, but also would create a fifth and novel use for our manmade and unnatural lakes: to release precious water to enhance green fantasies about returning to a 19th century landscape of salmon jumping in our southern rivers from sea to Sierra, and bait fish and minnows in the delta swimming as they had for eons. How odd that naturalists wanted unnatural reservoirs to improve on nature.

The sin of not investing in “infrastructure” to keep up with population growth was compounded by a greater sin still of misappropriating infrastructure. Those who had stopped the building of more unnatural dams — a green movement birthed among the opulence of Northern California that sought exemption from the ramifications of its own ideology — now wanted infrastructure to store the water necessary for its own dreams of replenishing salmon in the rivers.