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The Lake Tulloch Water Crisis: Causes and Analysis

Sonora Union Democrat - Opinion Column - March 5, 2015,

Draining Lake Tulloch: A Symptom of Decades of Failed Policy
By Jack Cox
The Lake Tulloch Alliance
In 1978 the New Melones Reservoir began to store water. In 1978 the population of California was 22.8 million people and now it is 39 million, a 42% increase. Since 1978, not one new dam has been constructed that matches the capacities of Melones and the few, that were built, can store just 60% of Melones’ capacity. California’s water storage capacity is 42 million acre feet of surface storage. Therefore the state since 1978 has increased its storage by 3.8% while the population has grown by 42%.

The problem of insufficient water storage is compounded by environmental schemes that waste water trying to save fish. It is a policy that expert analysis finds does not work. This policy continues today while California is in a near unprecedented drought. Over 20 billion gallons of water have been released since last spring primary from Melones and a little from Folsom Dam.

In the last week, it has become clear that these releases are wreaking havoc on the people who live around these reservoirs and the farmers who depend on the water. Last week the Oakdale Irrigation District warned that Lake Tulloch might have to be drained to meet this federal environmental policy. Even if it did work, fish have to come after the welfare of people!

Recently a reader of this newspaper wrote a letter to the editor criticizing Congressman Tom McClintock for his work on these issues. In reality it has been our Congressman and some past Congressmen like John Doolittle who have worked for real solutions to California’s water needs. They have supported the construction of more water storage and opposed environmental policies that waste water. The Auburn Dam was killed and some want to tear down Hetch Hetchy. There is the Biblical reference of “a voice crying in the wilderness” with the truth to which no one is listening. That is precisely what we have here. Tom McClintock has warned of the dangers of these failed policies but few have heeded his clarion call for realism in addressing California’s long term water demand.

For the Lake Tulloch basin, home to about 10,000 people including the state prison, our water supply is at risk simply because during this time of drought precious water wasn’t placed in storage but was wasted to meet ill-conceived environmental goals. The situation in LaGrange is very serious with the McClure reservoir at about 8% of capacity and same with Don Pedro.

It is true that no man is to blame for the drought but the failure to be adequately prepared for it is. Yes, conservation is a critical element of water policy as it is with energy policy. For example, if we had not introduced conservation measures in energy over the same period, we would need at least 75% more energy than we now use.  However, our energy sources have grown over the same period with the introduction of renewables and the increased production of fossil fuels. We have failed to do that with water.

 Environmentalists through PR campaigns and law suits have achieved their goals with zero consideration of their impact on people, the economy and even ecology of our communities. Some environmental groups like Earth First now want the releases to “save the fish” to be increased by 50% immediately! It is noteworthy that these same groups oppose the construction of new dams in the name of saving the environment. However, there are many conservationists including the Lake Tulloch Alliance that are sensible and support balance.

Right now we need to use the scarce amount of water we have left to take care of people and to grow the food that people consume. That’s it. We do not have the luxury to undertake some new ecological scheme. We need to get back to basics by providing water to people and to finally have the political will to build the water storage for the future and reverse misguided environmental policy. This will require policy makers to confront the extreme elements of the environmental movement that are out of touch with reality.

The irony of the concept of draining Lake Tulloch is that it will actually destroy another habitat that is home to wonderful wildlife like Bald Eagles, Egrets, duck, bass, trout and more.

Finally, the problem with the much of the environmental movement of the past 45 years is that it failed to confront the economic/social impact of the policies they advocate. There is no such thing as a free lunch. There is a cost for everything and now these environmentalists want the people of the Lake Tulloch region and others in LaGrange and communities across California to pay for their stupidity with the destruction of their economies, communities and quality of life.

We hope that our elected officials in Washington and Sacramento won’t let that happen. Thankfully we have three legislators in Congressman McClintock, State Senator Tom Berryhill, and Assemblyman Frank Bigelow who are working to do the right thing. Congressman McClintock is asking his colleagues in Congress to join him in ending water releases in a time of drought to save fish.  We only hope that a majority of their colleagues support their efforts now to save communities like Lake Tulloch or LaGrange.

We concur that water conservation is important. However a clear message needs to be carried to our elected officials, including our Governor and the Obama Administration, these policies threaten our way of life, our local economies, and the ecology itself. We need a change in course now and it will only happen immediately if the US government ends the mandated water releases. The next water releases from Melones begin in 30 days!
Note:  For information check www.laketulloch.org. Jack Cox,  founder of The Lake Tulloch Alliance, is president of The Communications Institute which conducts studies and education programs on public policy issues nationally and was Chief of Staff to US Congressman Barry Goldwater, Jr.
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