and flood protection and healthy waterways for California's communities, economy and environment. That's the goal and the promise of our newest state initiative.
This week Governor Gavin Newsom directed California's water agencies to prepare a resilient water portfolio that will meet California's needs for the 21st century. You can read the order by clicking here. One thing I really appreciate about this new order is that Newsom acknowledges that water infrastructure can and should include natural elements of our landscape, including forests and floodplains. He also calls for some effective strategies in developing our water portfolio of the future, including working regionally at the watershed level and incorporating successful strategies from different parts of the world.
Looking back at the history of western civilization in California, it's easy to see that we have done none of those things in the past 150 years. Our water strategy is directly descended from the Gold Rush mining practices that started with gold panning, progressed to sluicing and then quickly leveraged new technologies to develop hydraulic mining. That particular technological innovation ended up devastating river after river by dumping epic amounts of sediment and gravel that forever changed the way that water flows down from the mountains in the east, through the Central Valley and out through the San Francisco Bay. Hydraulic mining poisoned our fisheries with mercury and arsenic and forever stopped the riverboats from being able to navigate the Sacramento River to Marysville.
The Gold Rush is also responsible for our love of hydropower and dams, as our very first electrical grid in California came from hydroelectric plants and dams on the Yuba River. The Stairway of Power on the North Fork of the Feather River created a series of dams that eventually culminated in the Oroville Dam and Hyatt Power Plant. All that low-carbon and climate-friendly energy has powered homes and industries for many years, but it's also raised very serious questions about how we'll be managing these dams and reservoirs into the next century as they continue to fill with sediment and age well past their design lifetimes.
Flood control from dams and levees have carved out great sections of land in the Central Valley that have become productive farmland and made our farming families wealthy, and water is moved great distances to the enormous cities of Southern California. But we should always ask ourselves who is benefitting from this enormous water infrastructure and who is paying the cost? When the dam spillway fails, it's the rural residents living downstream who are at risk.
So when Newsom directs our state agencies to embrace new technologies and innovation, I add that we need to be very cautious in evaluating these new options. All too often, we fall in love with technology and forget about how we're paying for it, whether it's our fisheries, our navigable rivers, or our clean, drinkable water. My first recommendation is to analyze what elements of a new technology are being externalized - who or what will have to live with the byproducts or labor or degraded environment?
I've been falling in love with simpler technologies that are associated with smaller infrastructure projects distributed more widely across the land, so that when a failure occurs it is not catastrophic. I'm falling in love with projects that incorporate ecological systems from the very beginning of the design process. I'm already committed to doing more than plan and build water infrastructure but commit to generations of monitoring and assessment of projects so that we can learn from them, study projects in a changing climate, and make adjustments and improvements as we go along. Ask anyone who lives in Oroville: a dam is not a static, motionless monument but is a dynamic system in motion that requires huge commitments of time and money to maintaining and monitoring.
8/12/2019 12:39:36 am
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