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DELTA FLOWS 4/4/21: The Dam Problem for the Bay-Delta Estuary

Restore the Delta – Calendar Announcements
1. Attention San Joaquin County Middle School, High School, and College Students and Teachers! The 
5TH ANNUAL H2O HACKATHON will take place on April 17th, 2021.
2. Our Living Delta: An Online Benefit for Restore the Delta Friday will be May 21st at 6:30 pm. (Details soon!)


The Dam Problem for the Bay-Delta Estuary
Natalia Barraza, Climate-Water Advocate, Restore the Delta

When I was 17, my parents took us kids to Las Vegas. On our way back to Stockton, we decided to stop at the Hoover Dam. I thought it was one of the coolest places ever. I was amazed at not just its size, but also that it was divided right into the middle of two states. I was able to cross into Arizona in one step and hop right back into Nevada. I also loved how they paid respect to the Navajo Tribe. This was the first time I had visited a dam and was able to see it in action.

The dams that are built in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Watershed protect thousands of people and billions of dollar’s worth of agriculture but they are far too old and far too many of them need repair. Some unnecessary dams are drying rivers and putting business in front of the environment.
On March 8th, I had the privilege of attending a meeting at the State Water Resources Control Board where a guest speaker said people are the ultimate losers. People who live near rivers are losing economically, and dams are a contributing factor. Dams are not all bad; they hold drinking water for millions of people. But when we have already built dams on the best available sites, dams cause more harm than good. There are 1500 dams in California that can store 43 million-acre feet of water. But two-thirds of these dams need repairs. In California, every major river has been dammed. These dams hold back flows needed for a healthy estuary when they are not managed properly.
Yet water “beneficiaries” want to build more. The thing is, there is not enough water to store. In drought years, like this year, we cannot fill the dams we have. The beneficiaries believe more dams will mean more water for farmers. More specifically, almond farmers. Almonds trees take approximately 3 gallons of water to just grow one almond. Almond orchards use 10 percent of the water of California. Expanding almond farming is risking California’s water future for financial gain.
Another reason there is an overbuilding of dams is for power generation. Financier Warren Buffett controls PacifiCorp. PacifiCorp is responsible for co-licensing four dams in Northern California. These dams have been held responsible for ruining salmon runs. Salmon essential for fishing industries and the well-being of California Indian Tribes are still being destroyed because of these four dams that Warren Buffet controls. When the pumps of the dams turn on, they move juvenile salmon off of their natural courses. Thankfully in November of 2020, there was a deal that will remove these four dams by the year 2023. 
More needs more to be done by the government of California to rethink dams that have destroyed ecosystems, the culture of California Indian Tribes, and that do nothing for drought preparedness. By putting financial gain in front of fixing historic mistakes, we are ignoring the threat of climate change to our water supply. Dams need to stop being built, and some existing ones need to be removed. Such action would help to create more flow for the Delta.
As a structural engineering student, who marvels at how dams work, I recognize they need to be rethought. We need new solutions for new water challenges resulting from climate change.

Works Cited:
Kasler, Dale, and Ryan Sabalow. “California, Oregon to Take over Dams Controlled by Warren Buffett. The Plan: Tear Them Down.” The Sacramento Bee, The Sacramento Bee, 17 Nov. 2020, 
“San Joaquin Threat.” Friends of the River, Friends of the River Foundation, 
 Skelton, George. “Capitol Journal: California Should Stop Thinking about More Dams. The State Is Brimming with Them.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 4 Mar. 2019,