Congressman Tom McClintock

Representing the 4th District of California

Folsom Dam - Third Phase Completion of Improvement Project

August 27, 2015

Congressman McClintock delivered the following remarks at the Third Phase Completion ceremony at Folsom Dam:

Third Phase Completion of Folsom Dam Improvement Project
Folsom, California
August 27, 2015

    It’s ironic that we are celebrating progress on a facility to rapidly release water out of Folsom Lake while we are in the fourth year of an historic drought and the lake is nearly empty.  

    This spillway project is a reminder that the previous generation built these great dams not only to protect us against water shortages in dry years, but also to protect us against floods in wet ones.  This combination of water storage and flood protection is what makes it possible to sustain a thriving and prosperous human population throughout this region.    

    And if the early observations of building El Nino conditions come to pass, we may be moving very rapidly from one of the driest periods on record to one of the wettest, and the worth of this project may become quite clear in the not-so-distant future. 

    It bears repeating on this occasion that the purpose of these dams is to protect the human population against water shortages in times of drought and from inundation in times of flood.  The Sacramento metropolitan area would be a very different and diminished place without them.  

    A happy byproduct of these dams is that they tame the catastrophic cycle of flood and drought that ravaged riparian habitats since time immemorial.  Without these dams, in a drought like this, there would be no rivers and there would be no fish.  

    We don’t build these facilities to more efficiently move water to the ocean for the fish – water is very good at running downhill on its own and tends to get to the ocean without our help.  We build these facilities to benefit the HUMAN population – to store water in wet years so that we have it in dry ones, and to protect our communities against catastrophic flooding.

      As we look at the very low level of Folsom Lake today, and reflect on the fact that throughout the worst drought on record our government continues to release massive volumes of water for no other purpose than to adjust water temperatures to make the fish more comfortable, I think we have to question the fundamental operation of these facilities and the policies that produce such follies.  

    This is especially true today, as Californians are going to extraordinary lengths to scrimp and save every drop of water in their homes, and hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland have been lost to water cutbacks.     

    This spillway project is part of a multi-billion dollar program to protect the Sacramento region against a 200-year flood.  Folsom Dam stores over one million acre-feet of water and produces nearly 200 megawatts of electricity. We should note, however, that just upstream from this spot is the abandoned site of the Auburn Dam, that if completed, would have given this region nearly 2 ½ million acre feet of storage, 800 megawatts of hydro-electricity, and 400-year flood protection for the Sacramento Delta.  Two and a half times the water; four times the hydro-electricity and twice the flood protection as currently provided by Folsom.   Indeed, if the Auburn Dam had been completed, Folsom Lake would be brim full today, and the Sacramento region would be safe from a 400-year flood with all the added prosperity that cheap and abundant water and electricity would have provided.  

    So while we celebrate progress on this spillway, we should recognize that a great deal more needs to be done and CAN be done to fulfill the vision of California’s generation of great builders, whose works we have enjoyed without seriously contributing to them since we walked away from the Auburn Dam in mid-construction more than forty years ago.

    Speaking as a member of the House Water, Power and Oceans sub-committee, I can tell you that we are determined to restore that promise of abundance as a centerpiece of the federal government’s resource policy.

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