Flooded vineyard in northern California Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
While storms have their destructive sides, like from this vineyard scene on California's North Coast, this year's drought-busting rains will also help replenish aquifers and fill reservoirs.

This is why California has dams

Water storage is not the only reason California forefathers dammed streams and rivers; the benefits of flood control can be seen up and down the state because of these structures.

What a difference a year makes.

Last year at this time California was basking in weather that makes it famous: warm temperatures and sunny skies were comfortable to everyone but the farmer.

This year heavy snow and blizzard conditions forced the lengthy closure of two major trans-Sierra highways as water officials were in flood control operations at major dams. The latter is much more visible to folks as rivers rise and some use the circumstances to further blame California and federal officials for not building more dams to store more water.

While it’s easy at times to criticize water officials for some of their activities, flood control is one of the major reasons we built these dams in the first place. Were it not for Shasta and Oroville dams in particular, people could not live and farm in the Sacramento Valley like they do.

A Fresno Bee article reports about the frustration of some farmers after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began releasing water from Millerton Lake near Fresno ahead of what could be a deluge of storm runoff.

That water flows into the San Joaquin River, which is supposed to drain into the Pacific Ocean, but some say it really doesn’t – not anymore.

One farmer I know who grows crops along the San Joaquin River once told me that he liked the USBR’s summertime river releases from Friant Dam because that water helped replenish aquifers from which he irrigated.

For the San Joaquin River in particular this could be quite beneficial as growers along the river have been forced to pump from aquifers in the region to irrigate their crops. Even typically dry stretches of the Kern and Kings rivers are running hard, which will also help replenish aquifers.

While northern California farmers and water users appear set for this year – Shasta Lake is well on its way to filling once-again and Lake Oroville is up even more dramatically in the past month – the rain and snow south of the Delta should bode well for growers who have suffered most during the state’s lengthy drought.

This is what California needs – active watersheds moving water towards the ocean. Along the way some of this water will fill aquifers, leach natural salts from root zones and further benefit the rich soil that makes California the agricultural powerhouse it is.

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