Surface Water Supply Projects Gobble Energy

By Published On: October 12, 2007

Republicans and Democrats in Sacramento are scrambling to place competing water project bond measures on the ballot after failing to get them through the Legislature. Water policy analysts say while some of the bond money may be used to fund pumped storage for peaking supply, the new dams would be net energy takers. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s $9 billion plan would increase demand for electricity by pumping water from waterways into two off-stream storage facilities, observes Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute executive director. Even though the two proposed projects–enlarging the Los Vaqueros Reservoir and building a new reservoir, known as Sites, off the Sacramento River–would generate electricity when water is released, they would use more electricity than they would provide. A third reservoir plan, known as Temperance Flat on the upper San Joaquin River, could diminish power production at a nearby hydropower plant, according to Gleick. That plant is the 25 MW Friant Dam project operated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said Bill Dutton, Bureau of Reclamation engineer. Another analyst maintains that legislators should more carefully study competing options for enhancing the state’s water supply and water quality. “I don’t see the debate being very well informed,” said Robert Wilkinson, University of California, Santa Barbara, water policy program director at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. He urged lawmakers to perform a comparative study of water supply strategies, from surface storage to water reuse and desalination. Meanwhile, he said, the state should vigorously pursue water efficiency measures that also cut energy use. Instead, however, lawmakers appear to be moving to put competing Republican and Democratic proposals on the ballot after SBX2 2 authored by Senator Don Perata (D-Oakland) failed to pass the State Senate October 9. The governor’s proposal, authored by Senator Dave Cogdill (R-Fresno) failed to get out of committee. The race to put both measures on the ballot was reported October 9 in the California Progress Report. While Cogdill’s bill emphasizes surface water storage, Perata’s smaller $5.8 billion bill funds the Department of Water Resources to administer a potential range of water supply alternatives, including desalination, groundwater cleanup, recycling, and water efficiency, as well as new surface water storage projects. Many of these measures also require energy, observed Wilkinson, though efficiency projects generally save energy. Meanwhile in Congress, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) introduced S. 2156, “The SECURE Water Act.” The bill aims to develop better information on water resources, particularly in dry areas. Bingaman said the measure would help local officials meet water challenges. Domenici added the bill aims to provide “a clear picture by providing better data collection and analysis of water in the West.” The measure, for instance, requires the Bureau of Reclamation to initiate a climate change adaptation program to deal with growing water shortages.

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