Dam Ideology

Condit Dam in Washington state before it was removed from the White Salmon River in 2011-2012. Photo credit: Creative Commons.
Condit Dam in Washington state before it was removed from the White Salmon River in 2011-2012. Photo credit: Creative Commons.

When it comes to water, concrete trumps common sense.

That was the take-home message Wednesday evening from Daniel P. Beard, former commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, who spoke at Old Town Farm in Albuquerque on his swing through New Mexico to promote his book, Deadbeat Dams.

Our political leaders “appear to be ostriches with their heads stuck in the bottom of empty reservoirs,” Beard proclaimed.

“We seem to have a need to build something – anything – even when the project makes no sense at all. ”

Here in New Mexico, Beard’s message couldn’t be timelier. The clock is ticking fast toward a November 23 deadline by which U.S. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewel must decide whether to green-light the development of a major diversion project on the Gila, New Mexico’s last undammed river.

Called a billion-dollar boondoggle by conservationists, a Gila diversion has been shown by studies to be unnecessary for water security, uneconomic by any reasonable accounting method, and unwanted by New Mexicans. No one has identified who would foot the project’s bill, even as state officials continue to give the project a thumbs up.

Beard is no outsider. In addition to serving as Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner in the Clinton Administration, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Water Resources, Staff Director of the House Interior Subcommittee on Water and Power, and from 2007 until 2010, as Chief Administrative Officer of the House of Representatives.

What gets Beard’s blood boiling about western water projects is precisely what conservative lawmakers should care about: fiscal irresponsibility.

Federal water subsidies, Beard said, constitute “a raid on (taxpayers) pocketbooks.” By eliminating them, “we will permanently alter —> Read More

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