As a Civil Engineer, many readers would assume that I would be all pro-construction, pro-infrastructure ready to support any concrete structure proposed anywhere in the world. The truth is far from that supposition. Efficiency and environmental protection rank at the top of my priorities. A local example of the tension between infrastructure management and construction and environmental protection, in this case, across international boundaries is the Shanker’s Bend Dam…
The $260-million US Shanker’s Bend dam would be located eight kilometres northwest of the Washington town of Oroville and above the Enloe Dam, which was built in 1920, but ceased to produce electricity in 1959. The county is also seeking commission permission to reactivate power production from the Enloe dam.
This proposed dam has been controversial for a number of years – pointedly ignored in politics during the recent Canadian Federal Election. If constructed it will flood 9000 acres of riverine habitat in British Columbia, lakes, private farmland, and abandoned mine sites.
Gregoire pointedly asked, however: “If not there, where? We need to store more water in Eastern Washington.”
But do they really? I’ve often argued the same line, storage is important – but at what cost, and for what purpose. If it is just to permit more people to use ever more water, then that is wrong. If it’s drought protection, (not to maintain green lawns), but to ensure productive lands), there could be a benefit. If it’s to protect against floods, we need to learn that our solutions often cause more problems than they solve.
At what point do the negatives outweigh the positives – a system of metrics needs to be developed that will give decision-makers the assurance that on all levels the net benefit of the project wins. In this case, I’m inclined to say that there are enough dams in this part of Washington and British Columbia, and that one more is not necessary – now I haven’t seen any hard numbers on the project, but intuitively it feels wrong to be building another dam when we can barely look after the infrastructure we already have.