CA added only 5 dams since 1959, despite drought

Has California built any dams in the past 55 years as its population has more than doubled – and as a drought rages? Yes – but not by the state.

Peter Gleick of the Pacific Water Institute recently stirred the waters about whether California has added any new water storage dams since 1959. The title of his article in the San Francisco Chronicle, “The Number of New Dams Built in California in the Past 50 (or 40, or 30, or 20) Years is Not Zero.”

Gleick is correct that five new dams were built in California since 1959 with a total capacity of 8.6 million acre-feet of water. However, we need to distinguish.Grand_Coulee_Dam_spillway

No water has been added to the State Water Project or federal Central Valley Project for farms and cities. The State of California has built no new dams since 1959.

However, the federal government and three local water districts have built the five dams Gleick mentioned.

The five dams are irrelevant because they do not effectively produce more water for the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project that provide water to cities and farms. Both the state and federal water systems depend on the largest reservoir of the Sierra snowpack that holds 15 million acre-feet of water.

So, while Gleick’s “not zero” is correct, it also could be calculated as “not much more relevant than zero.”

The dams listed by Gleick include:

Federal dams

1. New Melones Dam

The New Melones Dam, with a capacity of 2.4 million acre-feet of water storage, is the United States’ first “green dam.”  It was re-built in 1978 by the federal government.  It is no longer able to meet its original obligations to provide flood control protection and agricultural irrigation except in a rare wet year.  All of the water in the dam is now required only for fish flows during normal years. Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Modesto, has attempted without success to get as little as 100,000 acre-feet of water dedicated for agricultural irrigation.

2. Warm Springs Dam (Lake Sonoma)

Warm Springs Dam in Sonoma County was built in 1983 and holds 381,000 acre-feet of water.   The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation operates the dam for flood control and fish flows; and for agricultural irrigation operates when enough water is available.  Warm Springs Reservoir is not counted on the list of state and federal reservoirs for water storage purposes as it serves only Sonoma County.  

Local dams

3. New Spicers Meadow Dam

The New Spicers Meadow Dam was built by the Calaveras County Water District in 1989 and holds 189,000 acre-feet of water.  It diverts water from the Stanislaus River that flows into the San Joaquin River and ultimately the Sacramento Delta.  The purpose of the reservoir is to provide drinking and agricultural water as well as hydro-power to Stanislaus and Calaveras counties only. Since it diverts water from the Delta, the State of California does not count it as contributing to water storage.

4. Los Vaqueros Dam and Reservoir

Los Vaqueros Dam and Reservoir was built by the Contra Costa County Water District in 1998 and holds 160,000 acre-feet of water solely dedicated to serving Contra Costa County.  The reservoir was built because during dry years water from the Sacramento Delta became salty.  The reservoir is also not counted by either state of federal authorities for water storage purposes.

5. Diamond Valley Lake

Diamond Valley Lake is an 800,000 acre-feet off-stream reservoir located in Riverside County in Southern California.  The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California built it in 1995.  It is also not counted as contributing to statewide water storage. It is a backup reservoir that holds surplus water for droughts and emergencies for Southern California only.  The reservoir is connected to the State Water Project by the 44-mile Inland Feeder pipeline.  Diamond Valley Lake only takes water from the State Water Project when surplus water is available for storage for future use.

Wayne Lusvardi is a columnist for Calwatchdog. This was originally posted on


  1. The Oroville Dam on the Feather River was built in the 60s and is a flood control and recreation dam with water feeding S. California and the Sacramento Valley.
    Our biggest problem is the Federal Government taking control of State land and resources… Soon we will be simply a finger on the hand of the Fed and when that time happens we should get rid of all State Politicians and save ourselves tons of money. No sense paying fools who do not serve the State and are merely echo boxes for the Fed….
    Or if anyone really would like to follow the Federal and State Constitutions then it is time for a Revolution and that is the bottom line…

    • Jimmy Nickles says

      My dad was a tunnel stiff and he worked on the diversion tunnels. Did the project start before 59? What about Lake Don Pedro? The old man worked on that job too.

  2. I guess a program of population reduction is called for.
    In today’s world of immigrant (whether legal or not) awareness, nee rights, we’ll use a FIFO process (First In, First Out – Spanish surnames exempted).
    All you descendants of the 49’ers: Get the Hell out!
    We’ll work forward from there.

  3. Non-native fish are more important than people, than evirnmentalists, and all the people (Brown) in Sacramento that cater to their demands.

  4. The Scotsman says

    We can always count on the brilliance and smartness of Sacramento and Washington to always take care of the Citizens. WATER? A necessity of life, both for agriculture and human life. Today the only real Government (both State and Fed) water plan is for the Poor Little Fishies! TO HE*L WITH PEOPLE! Our Governments giggles over the thought of people Dying of Dehydration, Starvation and Death by Fire!! The only thing the Governments don’t realize is they too will Suffer the same plight they created. With this type Government, THERE ARE NO WINNERS. WE ARE ALL LOSERS!

  5. If the environmentalist had their way, the state would be in the business of destroying reservoirs Remember the hetch-hetchy issue a few months back?

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