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Temperance Flat

"The dam will increase supplies for cities and farmers by a piddling amount, but it's main purpose is storing cold water to help revive fish habitat."

Jul 21, 2015

We have supported the concept of building the Temperance Flat project.  In theory it would be a big help to Valley agriculture.  But, anti-ag environmentalists also have their theories, and they want the water for other purposes, if they want the project at all.  

The first sign of trouble we found with Temperance Flat was the feasibility study by the Bureau of Reclamation.  According to the Valley Economy Blog, it "values the ecosystem benefits 2-10 times higher than the water supply benefits."  And Brett Walton at the Circle of Blue agrees saying "the dam will increase supplies for cities and farmers by a piddling amount, but it's main purpose is storing cold water to help revive fish habitat."  So, there's that.

Back in 2011 we also noticed that the Bureau of Land Management was proposing to give a 5.4 mile stretch of the San Joaquin River 'Wild and Scenic' status.  Just last year Friends of the River wrote, "In addition, federal and state agencies are studying three dam projects that could drown Wild and Scenic River candidates behind new or expanded dams, including segments...of the San Joaquin River Gorge." Where?  Right where the dam would be built, meaning the 'Wild and Scenic' status would prevent any new development on the river in that stretch.  So, there's that.

In the battle for storage in Prop 1 last year, the Natural Resources Defense Council endorsed it saying, "Prop 1 is not earmarked for new dams.  Critics site concerns about funding for surface storage, but this simply isn't the case.  Even the L.A. Times, Mercury News and others have noted as much in their editorials."  So, there's that.

Then just last week in the L.A. Times environmentalist Jacques Leslie writes that "Democrats have ed enough snares in Chapter 8 (the section of Prop 1 dealing with surface storage) to confound the water buffaloes" (that's us).  "In addition, ecosystem benefits must constitute at least half of all public benefits ensuring environmental concerns are addressed ahead..."  You get the picture.  So, there's that.  

Now, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors are trying to lead the effort to secure bond money to build Temperance Flat.  We don't want to discourage them from this pursuit, but want to warn them that they can't merely fight for the dam.  They also must fight for the water behind the dam.  That's what the enviros have done.  

Fresno County aims to push Temperance Flat agency

Fresno Bee

Marc Benjamin

Fresno County supervisors want to lead an effort to get bond money to build Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River when funding becomes available in early 2017.

The dam is seen as critical to improving water supplies and reliability in the central San Joaquin Valley.

The county is being pressed into action after the splintering of the Friant Water Authority, said Supervisor Brian Pacheco. He said the authority was the most likely group to serve as the lead agency in the process before fracturing earlier this year because of disagreements among about half of its 21 member agencies.

Those agencies had differing ideas about the most serious problems the authority was facing in acquiring water.

Now, supervisors want to create a joint powers authority to serve as the lead agency. Kings County supervisors also are expected to discuss the issue Tuesday while supervisors in Madera and Tulare counties will address it over the next few weeks.

Pacheco and Supervisors Henry R. Perea and Buddy Mendes have held meetings with several irrigation districts, water leaders and city officials in recent weeks after it became increasingly apparent the Friant Water Authority was not going to spearhead the effort.

In addition to the four counties, other agencies pledging support to the effort include: Fresno and Madera irrigation districts; Chowchilla Water District; Table Mountain Rancheria; and the cities of Mendota and Orange Cove.

Perea said there has been little effort to start a program to get the $2.7 billion of bond money available for water storage, and time is slipping away.

The $2.6 billion Temperance Flat project would add more than 1 million acre-feet of storage above Millerton Lake. Sites Reservoir, near Maxwell in Northern California, also is in the running for water storage funding. Its projected price tag is $3.9 billion.

“It will be a very competitive process for this water bond money,” Perea said. “We should be working now because every day of delay is a day lost.”

The plan is for Fresno County to become the starting point to organize the joint powers authority. Once the authority is organized, it will take the leadership role to get portions of the available funding.

“The county should be a participant, but maybe not the lead agency,” Pacheco said. “The roles aren’t defined yet.”

State water officials will expect joint powers authorities to participate in the funding application process, said Mario Santoyo, executive director of the Latino Water Coalition.

A group from Northern California trying to build the Sites Reservoir has been organized for years, he said.

But Fresno County Supervisors Debbie Poochigian and Andreas Borgeas are not yet sold on the idea of the county’s lead in a joint powers authority.

Borgeas said the county should not rush into forming the authority no matter how well intended the concept.

Poochigian said there is “broad agreement that we need to increase water supply,” but she wants to ensure that the authority is properly structured and that costs and legal exposure for the county are minimized.

“I don’t think anybody believes it’s a bad idea, but there has been inadequate evaluation and vetting of the idea,” she said.

Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166@beebenjamin

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