California - Land Of Lakes

Transcript of a speach by Dr. Paxton about the state of California's lakes.

by Dr. Jack Paxton

ow many of you think of California as a land of a thousand lakes? You don't? It's time to reconsider.

California has, at the present time, more than 2,000 lakes, most of which are man-made. There are 2,440 dams within California and 1,013 small dams not under the jurisdiction of the state, mostly for agricultural use. Most of the state's natural lakes have been messed with in one way or another.

One stream is the man-made mistake called the Salton Sea: a sewer for agriculture, where speculators still actively sell hyped sea-side lots for $100K, called it "Tahoe South." At the other extreme is the crown jewel, Lake Tahoe. But it would be a crying shame to call this modified lake pristine!

About the biggest mistake, Eastside Reservoir, was rechristened Diamond Valley Lake on March 18th. This 2.2 billion dollar lake has been designated "the source that could end water shortages in Southern California." If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you!

Another biggie that you may have heard of is the Oroville Dam, the tallest embankment dam in the United States at 770 feet. It's part of the state water project, and almost 770 miles away from us, but it supplies some of the water that comes from your tap.

Some of the biggest lakes - real lakes in California exist no more!

Owens Lake was drained by the City of Los Angeles. This lake was once one of the largest in California, at 112 square miles. In 1872, it was crossed by steamboat. I recommend the movie Chinatown for an enlightening insight into the politics of its destruction from 1913-26. Owens Lakebed is now the single most important source of air pollution in the United States, caused by dust from winds howling across its salty bed.

But LA didn't stop there. The St. Francis Dam, holding water from the Owens Valley, collapsed in 1928, releasing a 15 billion gallon flood that was one of the greatest civil disasters in American history. The St. Francis dam water began as a 75-foot high wave and scoured a path to the sea 2 miles wide and 70 miles long. In its wake it left much of Ventura county under yards of muck. The final death toll was nearly 500; weeks later, bodies continued to wash up on beaches as far away as San Diego. I remind you that Eastside Reservoir will hold 260 billion gallons - almost 20 times as much water.

Mono Lake, on the east side of the Sierra near Yosemite, was almost destroyed by LA in recent times for yet more water. But some hard-working environmentalists managed to save what is left of it. Mono Lake is now on a long, slow road to recovery.

Hetch Hetchy reservoir was created in 1916 in Yosemite Park by San Francisco, almost literally over the body of [Sierra Club founder] John Muir. This reservoir, for a SF water supply, drowned what was the twin of Yosemite Valley. The recent proposal to remove the O'Shannesy dam that created it, to restore this valley, makes a mocking tribute to our wisdom and power.

Now, in current events, a repeat of the 1997 rotenone treatment to kill all the fish of Davis Lake, a drinking water supply. Imagine: northern pike in this lake that was stocked with trout for sports fishermen. Local residents are outraged by a proposed 2000 repeat treat from the California Dept. of Fish and Game!

Let's take a closer look at our wet-and-wild county's 25 lakes:

Cuyamaca Reservoir, El Capitan, San Vicente, Barrett Lake, Lower Otay and Lake Hodges; Lakes Wohlford, Henshaw, Miramar, Poway, Ramona, Jennings, Sweetwater, San Dieguito, Calvarus, Dixon, Turner, Whelan, Windmill, Guajome, O'Neill, Murray, Upper Otay, Sutherland and last but not least, Lake San Marcos. Did I miss any rivers where nobody gave more than one dam? Oops, I forgot Olivenhain's No Name dam near Mt. Israel, being built as we speak.

Most of our rivers have been dammed more than once. We continue to go further out on the limb in water dependence and stream destruction. Stream habitat is very important for humans, but it is more important for many other species that are on the brink of extinction, unlike humans.

Meanwhile SANDAG is spending $14.7 million of your tax dollars this year to pump sand onto the beaches. The world is overflowing, but adding 2,200 more people every 15 minutes, according to the US Census bureau. Your local developer wants part of this action, and to do that in this semidesert climate they need you to give a dam.

I urge you not to be dam stupid!

Dr. Jack Paxton is a Professor Emeritus Univ. of Illinois, Urbana and a seasonal resident of San Marcos.