Study Made for City Pokes Holes in Pamo Dam Plans

Times Staff Writer

Echoing claims long voiced by environmentalists, a report written for the City of San Diego concludes that the controversial Pamo Dam project would be twice as expensive as original estimates and could be abandoned for less environmentally damaging alternatives.

The $100,000 report, released publicly Monday, was commissioned last year by San Diego City Council members to sort through the confusing claims surrounding the controversial project, which proposes to inundate 5,500 acres of city-owned land near Ramona to create an emergency water supply of 130,000 acre

feet of water.

Under an agreement with the San Diego County Water Authority, the council holds the final say on the project because it involves the use of city land and would primarily benefit the northern part of the city.


Environmentalists have vigorously battled the project, saying it would irreparably harm wildlife habitat. Dealing what some said could be the death blow to the project, the Environmental Protection Agency last November said it would veto the dam unless the water authority could prove Pamo wouldn’t harm the environment.

The city’s report, written by the Leedshill-Herkenhoff consulting firm of San Francisco, concludes that Pamo would harm 1,339 acres of “high-quality wildlife habitat, including areas occupied by least Bell’s vireo.”

The report also estimates that Pamo would cost $179 million--about double of the $86-million price tag that proponents of the project have quoted. It also says that a plan to mitigate the biological damage caused by Pamo is “incomplete” and would not be accepted by “regulatory authorities in its present form.”

Among the other conclusions in the report:


- There are other alternatives to Pamo that would “provide the same emergency storage and water supply functions . . . with less adverse impact on biological resources.” These alternatives would be more costly than Pamo, but would not require the use of city-owned lands.

- A single-purpose emergency water project could be built by the water authority at “substantially less cost and less environmental damage at other sites” in or near San Diego County.

- City officials should examine the capacity for storing water at Lake Hodges and the San Pasqual ground water basins. Water authority officials want to use the basins, instead, as a site for a companion water reclamation project to Pamo; environmentalists have objected, saying the basins could be used instead of Pamo to store imported water for an emergency.

Lester Snow, general manager of the water authority, said Monday that the city’s report “continues to raise questions” about looking for alternatives to Pamo. He said it is hoped that those and other questions will be answered by yet another study that the water authority has commissioned for completion by the end of the year.

But Emily Durbin, chairwoman of the county land-use subcommittee for the San Diego Chapter of the Sierra Club, hailed the city’s report as confirmation of the objections to Pamo that have been raised by environmentalists and the EPA.

“It (the City Council) has gotten a supposedly independent report pretty well confirming what the resources agencies and the environmental agencies have been saying all along: There is a better way to provide emergency storage than by destroying a valley with such a high value as Pamo,” she said.