County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn proposed a big solution Thursday to Los Angeles’ big water problem--digging aqueducts that would carry water to California from the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest and the Snake River in Idaho.
The waterways not only would lick the drought, Hahn said, but also would provide jobs to thousands of aerospace workers laid off because of defense cuts.
“We’ve had proposals to tow icebergs, too,” commented Maury Roos, chief hydrologist for the state Department of Water Resources. “This is a little more serious than that.”
Roos said Hahn’s proposal--which the supervisor has floated during previous water crises--is technically feasible, but is “frightfully expensive” and faces seemingly insurmountable environmental and political obstacles.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” said a deputy to Oregon Gov. Neil Goldschmidt when asked about Hahn’s proposal. And a spokesman for Washington Gov. Booth Gardner said his state also would oppose any diversion of Columbia River water to California.
In a motion put on Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors agenda, Hahn called on the governors of seven states to “officially recognize the drought conditions that exist in California.” The motion called for construction of aqueducts connecting the Columbia River with California’s water system at Shasta Lake and Idaho’s Snake River with the Colorado River at Lake Mead.
If no agreement can be reached, Hahn has asked the Board of Supervisors to direct the county lobbyists in Washington to seek repeal of a federal law prohibiting studies on diverting Columbia River water without the approval of the governors of affected states.
“Each day, the Columbia River dumps in the Pacific Ocean 90 billion gallons of fresh water,” Hahn said. “That is 3.7 billion gallons an hour, 61 million gallons a minute and 1 million gallons a second. That is wasteful and sinful.”
A Los Angeles water official, who requested anonymity, commented: “We had a difficult-enough time getting a 42-mile canal built in Sacramento, let alone a 400-mile aqueduct,” referring to the 1982 defeat of a referendum to build the Peripheral Canal.
Duane Georgeson, assistant general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said the proposal to divert Columbia River water to California dates back to at least 1963. He said the project would cost “many billions” of dollars.
Hahn floated the idea during the 1977 drought and in 1985 after the U.S. Supreme Court cut Colorado River water supplies to Southern California.
Dan Youmans, a spokesman for Washington Gov. Gardner, said: “I would hate to imagine what taking that water away from the river would do to the fish.”
Gail Achterman, assistant for natural resources to Oregon Gov. Goldschmidt, said: “The entire Pacific Northwest feels very strongly about the importance of retaining the water in the Columbia River to meet the needs of the Pacific Northwest.”
Previous attempts to divert Columbia River water to California were blocked in Congress by the late Sen. Henry Jackson of Washington, California water officials say. He sponsored legislation that prohibits federal studies of diversion without approval of the governors of affected states.
A Hahn spokesman said the supervisor did not check with water officials before preparing his motion, but plans to provide more details at a press conference Monday.