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Restoring Hetch Hetchy via Grand Compromise: Trading Dams

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Restoring Hetch Hetchy via Grand Compromise: Trading Dams

Postby Tom_H » Sun Nov 11, 2012 12:00 am

I have often wondered how many people would support the idea of a dam swap. How would all the affected parties (environmentalists, developers, etc.) react if the dam on the Tuolumne were taken down and Hetch Hetchy restored at the fiscal cost of environmentalists, if, in exchange, the dam were built on the American River in Auburn at the fiscal cost of developers and power utility companies, while the state water resources people made sure that SF got the water it needs through a new distribution plan?

A dam on the American at Auburn should provide more water than Hetch Hetchy does, so there would be an increase in total water available. Hetch Hechy would never really look natural again for millennia, but it would be a beginning toward eventual recovery. Some great whitewater and foothill hiking would be lost, but Sacramento would gain the flood protection it desperately needs. (Sacramento actually has greater flood potential than New Orleans.) I won't necessarily call it green energy, but more electricity would be added to the grid without adding to the carbon load; in fact, perhaps a coal plant could be taken offline in exchange for the new hydropower. A greater degree of recreation would become open to the public at both locations while the economy would receive a boost at both locations as well. And, if negotiated as described above, the public would not be on the hook for the cost. I know about the geology and the fault at the dam site, however modern computer modeling and engineering might provide a method to build a seismically sound dam.

The idea is a compromise. Unfortunately, too many in the modern era have come to view compromise as a bad thing. The founders viewed compromise as a good thing and built the early republic on the idea of giving up a part of what you want in exchange for gaining a part of what you want. I am not necessarily advocating this grand dam trade, but I would be very interested in starting a broader dialogue about the idea. Environmentalists would not normally be willing to surrender the American; SF would not normally be willing to surrender the Tuolumne. Would the trade-offs be worth it? Would it be worth the loss of part of the American to regain the Tuolumne and Yosemite's other great valley, while improving the economy, gaining flood control, lowering the carbon output, increasing the water supply, providing more recreation, and boosting the economy, while the city by the bay still gets its water? If we pulled this off, California could set an example for all those bickering people in Washington, D. C.

I am not at all interested in a food fight. Please restrict comments to constructive observations, no bashing, no name-calling, no absolutism. Let's please have a grown up conversation about the pros, the cons, and the realistic possibilities.



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Re: Restoring Hetch Hetchy via Grand Compromise: Trading Dams

Postby dave54 » Sun Nov 11, 2012 11:26 am

Why spend billions of dollars maintaining the status quo? In the future California will need more water storage and power generation, not swap dams to keep the same level.
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Re: Restoring Hetch Hetchy via Grand Compromise: Trading Dams

Postby adam921 » Wed Dec 05, 2012 6:30 pm

I've said the same thing. I think trading dams is a good start; not sure if I'd agree with the location, but I do agree with the idea.

As for maintaining the status quo, California (in a lot of places anyway) could do a lot more to conserve water, keeping our demand down rather than trying to increase supply to keep up.
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Re: Restoring Hetch Hetchy via Grand Compromise: Trading Dams

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Dec 06, 2012 1:38 pm

Water conservation does not solve the problem of timing. The problem in California is that it is too wet when wet; too dry when dry. In flood years there are not enough downstream facilities to store the water; in dry years, conservation alone will not solve the problem. There also is a geographical imbalance; northern CA has too much; southern CA not enough. The forecast for climate change is for wetter winters, due to more rain and less snow. If the snowpack in the Sierra (nature's storage facility) is reduced, he future's storage capacity will be even more insufficient. A "trade" does not solve the problem. Also, as the ocean levels rise, more coastal aquifers will become salty so populations will depend more on Sierra water.

I worked on the feasibility study for an off-stream storage facility on the Feather River and that was shot down by environmental opposition. The site is now a wildlife preserve.

All the "easy" solutions have already been done. There no longer are ANY water storage sites (above or under ground) that do not have some sort of feasibility problem, environmenal problem, or other impact problem. We need the political will to compromise and come up with a solution, even if it is not perfect from every stake holder's view. There has been a long term impasse for over 20 years on this issue.

Be wary of "studies" that show that any one solution is the best. You can change the results of any study by simply making different assumptions, and still be within the reasonable because there is a huge amount of uncertainty involved. Powerful interests hold the purse strings to the studies. And as mentioned previously, all the "slam-dunk" easy solutions have been done- we are left with the soutions with borderline physical and economic feasibilities.
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Re: Restoring Hetch Hetchy via Grand Compromise: Trading Dams

Postby adam921 » Thu Dec 06, 2012 2:25 pm

I'm curious, what do you see as the best long-term solution?
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Re: Restoring Hetch Hetchy via Grand Compromise: Trading Dams

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Dec 06, 2012 9:01 pm

Taking down all dams on the Tuolumne is not an option. Don Pedro was built for flood protection for Modesto. Sacramento has Folsom Dam which in most cases provides flood protection. If Don Pedro were taken down Modesto would have no flood protection at all. If anything, Don Pedro needs to be retrofitted for more storage capacity. So are you saying sacrafice Modesto to save Sacramento? And I am not convinced that an Auburn Dam would offer any more protection than does the supposedly "not needed" Hetch Hetchy, Cherry Lake and Lake Elenor. The issue is not which river system, American or Tuolumne, has the most volume of water, both need flood control systems.

Cherry Lake, Lake Elenor and Hetch Hetchy simply spill when the water is high enough. I believe they may even be remotely controlled most of the time. Although these upper watershed dams offer some flood protection, Don Pedro is the real flood protection facility that is activly managed. If you were to take out one of the three upper dams, Hetch Hetchy would be the logical one, because of its age and cost of repair. You certainly would cause more flooding if you were to take out all three. The only reason Hetch Hetchy is even being considered to come down is the cost of maintaining it in the future and that it is in a National Park. Lake Elenore and Cherry Lake are on FS land and in better shape.

No large dam currently in place was put there for no reason. ALL of them provide flood protection and/or water storage. Their operations are linked to provide downstream flood protection for the entire delta region and water supply for the entire state.

The water supply and flood control system in California is complex and all pieces work together. You cannot talk about changing one component without evaluating the effect on the entire system. In addition water supply and distribution is governed by complex water rights, exchanges, private, semi-private, state and federal operating rules.

It is going to take a multi-faceted approach, incremental changes, and yes, some newly built facilities. Practical environmentalism will win over gut-level emotional environmentalism. And the only thing that seems to jump start the political will to get something done and compromise, is, unfortunately, a huge disaster such as another major flood. If Hetch Hetchy comes down, it will be because it is no longer considered a viable part of the system - not because of emotional environmental reasons of to vindicate John Muir!

Sorry, I do not have a solution. If I did I would run for governor.
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Re: Restoring Hetch Hetchy via Grand Compromise: Trading Dams

Postby John Dittli » Sat Jun 15, 2013 10:56 am

adam921 wrote:I'm curious, what do you see as the best long-term solution?


The "best" long term solution? Less irrigation, less swimming pools, less people. Population IS the biggest threat. It is however, political, environmental and social suicide to even mention the "P" word. In the meantime a huge water project is being approved to suck ground water out of central Nevada to feed Las Vegas; think Owens Valley.......
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Re: Restoring Hetch Hetchy via Grand Compromise: Trading Dams

Postby rlown » Sat Jun 15, 2013 11:32 am

Thought the focus of this thread was on Hetch Hetchy. Not on the lower dams that are truly needed for flood control/water distribution.

If you switch river systems, there's a ton of infrastructure you need to talk about. and that's $'s.

As far as i know the best person on this topic to comment is Flip.

As an aside, I don't see the population decreasing, John. Probably more focus on water conservation there in general/mandatory.
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Re: Restoring Hetch Hetchy via Grand Compromise: Trading Dams

Postby John Dittli » Sat Jun 15, 2013 11:53 am

Conservation is important, especially in LV where they don't seem to understand the word. But not to wander too far off topic. I think I have read that California's population is actually declining. A quick search found this graphic.
Screen Shot 2013-06-15 at 11.46.12 AM.png


Of course population decline has a whole set of economic problems....
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Re: Restoring Hetch Hetchy via Grand Compromise: Trading Dams

Postby rlown » Sat Jun 15, 2013 6:50 pm

I like graphs as well. they prove nothing though. We have more here now than we did when the dams were built. Maybe some groundwater draw-down graphs and the fact that CA does do droughts every now and then.

I'd still like to see Hetch Hetchy go. From what i discern, the downstream reservoirs can handle the water. When I say Hetch Hetchy go, i mean you can leave it standing, as a monument to silly, but open the gates. seems the most cost effective way to go.

I'd love to see that "valley" come back.
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Re: Restoring Hetch Hetchy via Grand Compromise: Trading Dams

Postby HikeSierraNevada » Mon Jun 24, 2013 8:21 am

Interesting idea. More homework is in order regarding the assumptions about net benefits - annual average watershed water volume, hydro generation current capacity vs potential, water quality (cost to treat AR water vs pure HH water), environmental impacts (too numerous to even list). Perhaps someone has time to look up some of the statistics and get back to us with facts rather than speculation. The latest cost estimates are roughly $10 billion to remove HH and about $8 billion to build Auburn (the last design by USBR). The seismic issues and site geology are not a show stopper, they ended up being a red herring exploited by the opponents.

The swap concept seems a bit non productive taken as a whole. As for California population growth, we grew 4 million from 2000 to 2011. I can't imagine any realistic way to deliberately limit population growth except perhaps what China is doing (one child per couple). As for leaving the dam in place with "gates open" it will need huge outlets to keep from reflooding the valley during flood events. A big notch might work, but it would be a public safety issue to ensure it's stability and the water would still rise to some extent.

Do I seem pessimistic, yes. Look at the ridiculous amount of time and money that has been spent just trying to solve the issues with the Delta and the end result is nothing but lawsuits.
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