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Roundtable: Dam Trouble, Labor Union Difficulties, Carlsbad’s Power Plans
Friday, February 17, 2017
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The Oroville Dam north of Sacramento is the tallest dam in the United States. It's reservoir is the largest in the State Water Project.
Were it to fail, the loss of life and property would be catastrophic.
So when its emergency earthen spillway was undermined by record rains this winter, and a gaping hole opened in the main, concrete-lined spillway, nearly 200,000 people living nearby were evacuated on Monday.
The dam was full to overflowing last week. But this week the emergency spillway was shored up and enough water released from the reservoir to avoid more run-off, even with three storms headed for the area.
The Sierra Club and others warned the water districts which control Oroville that the untested emergency spillway needed to be strengthened. The districts resisted, reportedly because it would cost millions.
Locally, Sweetwater Dam in the South Bay, which failed in 1916, has been a cause for concern. The state Division of Safety of Dams warned the board overseeing Sweetwater that its refusal to pay for repairs to the spillway could lead to grave consequences.
The board is reconsidering.
California has a large number of high-hazard dams which could endanger people and property, but they are inspected regularly and most, including those in San Diego County, are considered safe.
Two former employees of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135 have sued Mickey Kasparian, the head of UFCW. Isabel Vasquez has sued for sexual harassment, and Sandy Naranjo for retaliation and gender discrimination.
Four other ex-employees have since come forward to accuse Kasparian of “various workplace misdeeds." A current employee has also filed a complaint over a hostile work environment, and UFCW has filed its own lawsuit against one of the women who filed suit.
Kasparian’s position makes him a major force in local Democratic politics. Nevertheless, some 40 local Democrats and others have asked the UFCW to put him on leave and investigate the allegations.
Unions are political forces because they generate votes, volunteers and money to support candidates and issues, and Kasparian “has considerable sway and influence” over which candidates to support, says Ricardo Ochoa, a labor attorney.
Kasparian is also president of the San Diego Imperial Counties Labor Council, a sort of union for unions. It’s been at odds with another big union group, the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council, and has often bested them in political efforts.
The Labor Council, for instance, supported Myrtle Cole for San Diego City Council president, while Building Trades supported David Alvarez, who lost.
State regulators found the Encina Power Plant on the coast in Carlsbad was deadly to marine life and caused so much pollution that it should be closed down by November, 2016.
It's still there, and still working, and likely to be so for another year.
The plant slated to replace it was approved on a basis of urgency (the current plant was going to close). The contract to build and operate the new facility was awarded to NRG, a large energy company out of Houston, without competitive bidding.
Encina's replacement is a “peaker plant,” a gas-burning facility used when demand peaks. Most are expensive assets for the communities they serve, used only 5-6 percent of the time. They pollute more than those that run constantly.
There are alternatives for energy storage that are cleaner than a gas-burning plant – battery storage, for instance – but these weren’t considered for Carlsbad.
Because of consumer use of more clean energy sources like solar and wind power, California now has a “power glut,” and is on track to produce 21 percent more power than the state needs.
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