New and Bigger Dams Threaten California Rivers

posted March 22, 2016
by Evan Stafford

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California is emerging from a multi-year drought and it is no surprise that there are many new water storage proposals to consider throughout the state. These proposals include increasing ground water storage, building new dams and raising existing dams. Not all water storage projects are created equal.  While increasing ground water recharge has broad support, there are many surface storage proposals on the table that shoulder ever increasing capital costs to ever shrinking benefit. In 2016 American Whitewater is focusing efforts to stop these fruitless water storage projects, which include:

- Raising Shasta Dam, impacting the Sacramento, McCloud and Pit Rivers

- Raising New Exchequer Dam on the Wild and Scenic Merced River

- Building Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River

- Building Centennial Reservoir/Parker Dam on the Bear River

Combined, the total reported yield of these projects would provide less than 1% of the statewide water use of 42 million acre-feet. For perspective, between June and December 2015, Californians saved approximately three times the amount that these projects would yield, combined. Astoundingly, the base costs of these projects has ballooned to over an estimated $4.3 billion. This does not account for the price tag of the multiple river resources lost to inundation – the CA State Wild & Scenic McCloud River above Shasta Dam, the Wild & Scenic Merced River above New Exchequer, the San Joaquin Gorge, remomended for Wild & Scenic designation by BLM, on the proposed site for the Temperance Flat Dam and the Bear River on the Centennial Project. 

Also, new storage backers believe these projects could qualify for water bond funds (Prop 1). Initial analysis by the California Water Commission shows that the Temperance Flat Dam would return a meager 10 cents in public benefit for every dollar of public money consumed by the project.  The Centennial Dam project was shown to provide no public benefit.  This showed that these projects where simply a handout to special interest.

Our advocacy to fight these projects faces an added challenge because introduced bills that challenge State and Federal enviromental protections including crucial public oversight and input through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process.   

American Whitewater and our partners will continue to work to keep water in our rivers and money in our pocket books, and to stop unnecessary new dams.  



Associated Rivers