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Ose and water, energy leaders hash over next potential crisis: water


Everyone knows the state has an energy crisis, but California's next crisis could very well be lack of water.

Water and energy leaders, and Rep. Doug Ose, hashed over the complexities of California's outlook during a forum held by the Northern Sacramento Valley Water Forum at Sierra Nevada Brewery Wednesday. About 80 people attended.

Ose, a Republican from Sacramento who represents voters in Glenn and Tehama counties and a part of Butte County, said the state is on the verge of repeating with water what has been done with the state's energy supply.

Ose said the current energy crisis could have been avoided if state officials had recognized the need for more power plants more promptly.

To avoid a water crisis as the state continues to grow in population, Ose said the state needs to build supply through dams and reservoirs.

"We need a (water storage) facility north of the Delta," which could be Sites reservoir near Maxwell, or some other location. Ose said there's a need for a new reservoir south of the Delta, even with projects in the works by Metropolitan Water District.

Ose said he is "heartened" by support from Sen. Dianne Feinstein in support of another reservoir in the state. But if proposals are made on the federal level they need to buck the trend of using "mush words," Ose said. The proposals need to show specific projects that would be funded, he said.

He said the type of mistakes made on power cannot be repeated on water.

For instance, nine of the state's power plants are fueled with natural gas but "not a single thing was done to increase the supply of natural gas," he said.

He chided the California Public Utility Commission for not allowing power providers to make deals for power over a long period of time.

The governor's plan to spend $2.7 billion to buy existing transmission lines does not increase the generation of power, he added.

Ose said he thinks California should put out bids for new power plants and offer low-interest loans for construction. The state could then arrange future energy contracts with the builders.

But Ose said there isn't a lot that the federal government can do to bail out California, except speed up the transmission of natural gas into the state.

The federal government is also still looking into whether energy providers owe the state refunds for overcharges during the crisis, Ose said.

One man in the audience said if the energy crisis had been caused by an earthquake or natural disaster, Congress would have come to the rescue. The state is "getting the cold shoulder," the man challenged.

Ose said politics being what they are, states that export energy at a high profit wouldn't vote to help California out.

Another panelist, Ali Alogami of the California Independent Service Operator, was asked to predict this summer blackouts.

Alogami said the ISO is making some estimates based on assumptions that the economy remains about the same, energy consumption decreases by 10 percent due to conservation, and the financial crisis with utilities is resolved.

If all three occur and new power generators come online in July, June could see some blackouts but the rest of the summer should be OK, Alogami said.

If the utility financial crisis isn't resolved, the new power generators won't come online because no one will want to invest in California's power grid, he said.

Conservation wouldn't take that much, he said. There are 12 million households in the state. If everyone shut down two extra light bulbs, that should give the state the wiggle room it needs. This would conserve the same amount of energy as two power plants, he said.

Another big energy draw is clothes dryers, said Steve Macaulay, chief deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources.

Macaulay said this year's dry conditions will increase energy problems since the state relies on hydro-electricity to feed the power grid.

Power pressures also play into water sales. Earlier in the year DWR began bargaining with people with water rights in the north to come up with water transfer deals.

Water users in Central California were interested in buying water for $75-$100 an acre-foot. But Westlands Water District backed out when they found out it would cost them hundreds of dollars in energy costs to transport that water, Macaulay said.

In the future, Northern California water providers will view water as a commodity to be sold when the state suffers droughts. Of course, Macaulay said, factors like local economies and the price for agricultural commodities will need to be weighed carefully.

-- Martin Thompson (, April 19, 2001

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