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By Steven Kennedy              Follow East Palo Alto Today on
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May 8, 2017                   
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Steven Kennedy
Steven Kennedy


America has several problems which prevent true greatness and which threaten our future and our quality of life. The catch is that the solution requires some outside-of-the-box thinking by politicians, farmers, captains of industry, diplomats, environmentalists, sportsmen and Indian Tribes. There is no shortage of legal, bureaucratic, ethnic and financial challenges to overcome to get this project started. 

These water issues must be addressed sooner rather than later. According to the Associated Press, our President could face the prospect of Colorado River water supply cuts to Arizona and Nevada as soon as January of 2018. The bottom line is that we can't feed our nation's addiction to immigrant labor, export food, nor have food security, without adequate supplies of water. A wall is not a solution. Money is better invested elsewhere. Again, there is no shortage of legal, bureaucratic, ethnic and financial challenges to overcome to get this project started. Cross border oil pipelines that threaten rivers, sacred lands and municipal reservoirs are insignificant in the larger picture. The alternative to water development is to have a nation that functions like Haiti, where more and more desperate immigrants, cut more and more trees until they are all gone and the topsoil of a millennia washes out to sea. Haiti is in a death spiral despite everything NGO's can do to help. We don't need to take America down that path. 

We must discuss the following 6 problems and demand civil discussion of water issues by visionary and knowledgeable presidential candidates in all three North American countries. Marc Reisner's book, "Cadillac Desert - The American West and its Disappearing Water", should be required reading in every high school civics class in North America

To make a long story short, the wheels of legislation in Congress used to be lubricated with water projects for flood control, irrigation and hydropower. A deep South congressman got a harbor dredging project if he voted for a Western congressman's dam. Without a decent dam site in the lower 48 states since the late 1950's, we must look further afield to find infrastructure projects which get congressmen talking to each other again across the aisle. In any country, if agriculture has problems, the whole country has problems. Half of this country's food (and a good portion of Canada's) comes from the Great Central Valley. Let's look at some real problems and start there.

Problem number one is rather mundane but not impossible to solve. The San Joaquin Valley needs a master drain to draw off the salts that irrigation leaves behind. A lot of land has already become too salt encrusted to farm. Hundreds of thousands of acres of prime farmland will permanently go out of production in our lifetimes if this salt is not drained away. If we don't drain.... We won't farm. It's that simple. This salt and chemical laden drain water can be diluted and flushed out through the delta and San Francisco Bay or continued to be stored in festering mini-Kesterton's on the back forty of farms all across the San Joaquin Valley, out of sight and out of mind. (Another option that bypasses SF Bay is a gravity fed, waste-water tunnel through the coast range.)   Huge amounts of water will be needed to flush any drain that we build. The lower San Joaquin River has often been described as the colon of the Central Valley. Restoring it as a functioning river will flush salts and restore what was once a thriving salmon fishery.

Problem number two is that San Joaquin Valley farmers are rapidly draining the aquifer. This is water that has accumulated since the last ice age, being drained in the geological blink of an eye. A farmer can easily drop the water table 3 feet in a single growing season, while nature puts back a half an inch. The canal along I-5 that takes Feather River water from Lake Oroville down the length of the San Joaquin Valley is buckling as the land sinks. The State Water Project's California Aqueduct is a crucial piece of infrastructure. The water that San Joaquin Valley farmers need to feed the nation flows right past them on its way up hill towards the power and money of Southern California.

Problem number three is the massive amount of electricity used by the pumps that lift water from the canal over the Tehachapi Mountain Range. Some of this energy is recovered as the water flows down the other side into Lake Perris but these pumps are easily the largest consumers of electricity in California. This electricity is needed to power a growing fleet of electric cars and a growing population.

Problem number four is that the Colorado River is over tapped. The flow was over estimated in a particularly wet year back in 1921, which means the Colorado River is the most heavily litigated river in the world. The River used to reach the Gulf of California. Now a good portion of it either enters the Pacific Ocean through LA's sewage pipes or makes the American southwest a little more humid than a hundred years ago through evaporation from lawns and swimming pools. Water from the Colorado River is used to grow low value crops at 8,000 feet in the poor soils of the Rockies instead of high value crops in the fertile delta at sea level in Mexico. This contributes minimally to our agricultural output and does absolutely nothing to stem the flow of illegal immigration to the U.S.

Problem number five is the huge amount of cash and electricity consumed by the desal plant at the border which delivers by treaty, a few hundred thousand acre feet of tolerably sweet water to Mexican farmers. This plant can be shut down if:
A) we take the land which sits on the saltiest bedrock out of production (which will suck the life out of several small rural communities), or
B) we increase the flow of the Colorado River, renegotiate the treaty and invite the Mexicans to share in the operation and maintenance costs. 

Problem number 6 is the declining health of the Salton Sea. The water level of the Sea can be stabilized, the salinity levels can be lowered to sustain fresh water game fish and wildlife, and agricultural run off from the USA and industrial wastewater from Tijuana can be dealt with appropriately, with a few hundred thousand acre feet of Fraser River/Colorado River water and the rejuvenated tax base that comes with a resort and tourist based economy. While other alternatives with hefty price tags have been studied, this water transfer plan is the best way to prevent huge clouds of toxic dust and plumes of rotten egg odors from making life regularly miserable for millions of residents of Southern California, as fish die, algae blooms and the Sea shrinks to nothing, dropping home property tax values dramatically across large swaths of the LA Basin. 

So here's how to solve all six problems with one bold stroke, make America great again and make Mexico and Canada, silver and bronze winners in the greatness category.

I propose that a Federally supervised consortium of construction companies raise money from the New York bond markets to finance the construction of a dam on the Fraser River in British Columbia. This dam will be big. It will make Hoover Dam, Bonneville and Three Gorges look small. Computer aided engineering and modeling will push the envelope in dam design. The reservoir will extend 400 miles up the Fraser River Canyon and will be so heavy that it will depress the surface of the earth and cause local earthquakes as it fills. Oroville Dam is the tallest in America at 770 feet. I modestly propose a dam that tops out at 5,000 vertical feet. 

Hydropower from the dam will power a hundred fifty million electric cars and trucks across North America. This will be clean renewable energy that lets us stop mining coal and fracking. We must lower our CO2 emissions, prepare for the day that the fracking boom ends and stop shipping money to OPEC. Canada must prepare for life after peak oil and be ready to ship fresh water. Mexico must prepare for a huge influx of retiring baby boomers who can't survive on social security.

When water from the Reservoir is routed through several snow capped mountain ranges in aqueducts the size of aircraft hangers and high above deep and wide valleys, it can be just dumped into the old bed of Lake Lahontan. The aqueduct doesn't even have to reach the watershed of the Colorado River. Evaporation off the flat, salty and ancient Lake bed and rain clouds will take it there. This new lake could put the playa of Burning Man under six feet of warm, salty water and lap at the outskirts of Salt Lake City. Then LA can just run another pipeline due East to the Colorado and substitute mixed Colorado/Fraser River water for Feather River water. The beauty of this plan is that the State of California would not have to spend $20 billion building a pair of cross delta tunnels to keep clean snow melt water from getting murky while crossing the Sacramento/San Joaquin River delta. Meanwhile, moisture heavy clouds that overshoot their intended destination in the Colorado River watershed will drop their loads (with a little help from cloud seeding) over corn belt states like Kansas and stop the overdraft of the Ogalalla Aquifer, which is already feathering out. 

Trump has never been afraid of taking on huge quantities of debt. Investment dollars from all over the world (including mainland China, Russia and OPEC countries), will finance this project. And they'll want higher immigration quotas, fair bidding practices and equal opportunity hiring as part of the deal. Mexican labor, will form the backbone of the labor force for the construction part of the project, as it does now in every construction project in the SF Bay Area. 

 It makes far more economic sense to build new Zika virus free cities in the desert than it does to revive the shuttered main streets of towns that time has left behind. It makes far more sense to build new cities on high ground than it does to dike the entire coast of Florida and put a dam across the Golden Gate. If you're going to build a wall, you might as well put something important and valuable behind it... like the purest of water from melting glaciers. In short, why would Trump want to drain a swamp when he can improve on the old one? The American agenda should not be about making America great again. It should be about preserving the beachhead of civilization that we've built on the West Coast of America (using unsustainable groundwater for the most part) and getting along with foreign powers.

Great nations rise and fall by their use and abuse of water. If Trump thinks outside of the borders of the lower 48, he can truly achieve greatness.