Friday, September 16, 2011

Nimbyism on the water front

Last month, news agencies flooded the Internet with stories about Hurricane Irene's devastating impacts. California has been relatively dry this summer, but the San Francisco Chronicle managed to find several inundated towns to write about: Trinity Center, Minersville and Springtown.

The reason these communities haven't gained as much publicity as rural Vermont is because they were flooded in 1961 when the federal Bureau of Reclamation built Trinity Dam, creating Trinity Lake. But Trinity Center native Mary Hamilton talks like the flooding took place yesterday. And the the flooding has lead members of the community to take on a Not In My Backyard mentality.
It was terrible. Just awful. So much pioneer work went into building that town, it was like losing a part of yourself.

Trinity County is one of the least populated counties in California, with 13,786 residents spread over about 2 million acres. It's located between Interstate 5 and U.S. Highway 101, at the south end of the Cascade Range.

The area's heyday came during the mining boom, but when those jobs dried up, the federal government decided to dam the Trinity River to provide water for the Central Valley. The economy has become dependent on tourism, which struggles when the lake level is lowered to meet the valley's water needs.

As Elisa pointed out in "Glimpses of water justice in California" rural communities have a great need for water, particularly drinking water, in our state. The Chronicle's story demonstrates why meeting that need is becoming more challenging: communities don't want to join Trinity Center at the bottom of a lake.

The bureau of reclamation's history of the Trinity dam construction describes just one public hearing taking place in Weaverville in 1952. Congress and President Eisenhower gave their approval to the project in 1955. The history makes no mention of what the citizens of Weaverville thought of the project.

Keith Groves, who was the last baby born in Springtown, another city flooded by the Trinity dam, says one thing local people want is more control.
There's a lot of frustration because these policies are still out of our hands. But this all happened in 1955. People back then didn't really argue with the federal government.

Today, the area's residents would probably turn to the Sierra Club (and their lawyers) for help, said Howard May of Weaverville.

The irony in this situation is that rural California comprises communities that need water and have water. But unlike in the 1950s, the communities with water see legal options to keep out water projects out of their backyard, making it harder for waterless counties to see relief. Maybe having a little more summer rain wouldn't be such a bad thing. Just not a hurricane.

1 comment:

ScottA. said...

Same thing at Whiskeytown in Shasta County. I don't think the Federals gave the residents there much time for comment and protest before building the dam and flooding that old mining town.

Besides the anger at the Federals, I know that there is also a great deal of anger directed by real Nor Cal residents at Central Valley farmers and Southern California for taking up so much water. Lord knows I'm ticked when I see sprinklers going off in the middle of the day to water manicured lawns around Davis or when I visit friends in LA.

But despite this anger, I think the Feds and the state have developed as many reservoirs as they can. At this point I think the only politically viable options left are improvements on current projects.