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Kings River water agencies, local leaders, Valley counties and area farmers all slammed Semitropic Water Storage District’s plan to divert Kings River water this week at a key hearing in front of the California Water Commission. An overwhelming majority of comment letters strongly opposed funding the project while the much larger Temperance Flat reservoir, competing for the same pot of money, got strong support.

The commission is considering funding requests from advocates for 12 water projects including Temperance Flat and from Kern-based Semitropic for its proposed reservoir near Kettleman City.

Altogether, the commission is expected to allot $2.7 billion for new water storage projects. In August, 12 applicants submitted projects for the commission's evaluation for their eligibility and the level of public benefits provided. By June, the commission will determine the maximum funding for which each water storage project is eligible and then make a final commission award.

This week all projects were heard at a Sacramento commission meeting.

So far the Semitropic’s proposal to receive $452 million from the commission (total cost $603 million) appears to be wildly unpopular with Kings agencies with all but a few of the 52 letters regards the Semitropic project – against it.

Letters of opposition came from Kings, Tulare and Fresno counties; Kings River Conservation District; Kings River Water Association; Kings Basin Water Authority; Kings County Farm Bureau; Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District; Consolidated, Alta, Corcoran and Fresno irrigation districts; Assemblyman Jim Patterson; Fresno Mayor Lee Brand; and Andy Vidak to name a few.

Favoring the projects are Assemblyman Rudy Salas, Senator Ben Hueso, Rep. Jim Costa, state building and construction trades and the applicant, to name most.

Proponents say the new Tulare Lake facilities (Kettleman Reservoir) and Aqueduct Tie-in would offer Kings River flood flow capture, reducing potential flood damage in the area and offering ecosystem benefits.

Opponents make the argument that the Kings River is already “fully appropriated” and any export of Kings River water would harm the already overdrafted water basin.

Meanwhile, of the 100 or so letters commenting on the $1.33 billion requested for the Temperance Flat project, only a few were against it, including the Sierra Club, arguing the application was late. The total cost of the project is $2.66 billion.

But virtually all Kings River-based agencies are saluting the idea of a larger dam in the upper San Joaquin watershed.

The letter from the Kings River Water Association urging funding for Temperance Flat reads, “Those of us in the central San Joaquin Valley recognize our region needs to develop additional surface water storage in order to capture much more Sierra Nevada runoff generated during above average water years. Water now lost because of flood releases represents the San Joaquin Valley’s only realistic means of complying with requirements of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Effectiveness of groundwater storage and water banking rely directly upon the adequacy of a system’s abilities to capture and store high flows of water created by heavy rain events and above average snowfall melt discharge while such discharges are occurring.”

The Kings River Water Association adds that there are numerous “disadvantaged communities” in the region that Temperance Flat would help and that the Semitropic reservoir would harm.

The Kings River service area includes 51 disadvantaged communities with a population of 646,236 stated in their letter.

The letter also states the Semitropic plan would hurt efforts to advance groundwater sustainability since it would allow exports of Kings River flood water to Kern County from the Kettleman reservoir.

John Lindt is an independent business reporter. He can be reached at sierra2thesea@gmail.com

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