California Farm Bureau contributed to this story.
Temperance Flat took a major step toward reality in a regional partnership seeking state of California water bond funds.
The San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority, a joint power authority, this week filed an application for Proposition 1 state water bond funding with the California Water Commission meeting a statutory April 14 deadline. Chair of the JPA Tulare County Supervisor Steve Worthley says the application also included a new JPA authored study required by the commission, looking at how the proposed new dam above Fresno, could manage water in years to come with an expected lower snowpack due to global warming.
Worthley said as a result of the filing and Valley support for the project he expects some of the $2.7 billion identified in voter approved Prop 1 will be allocated to Temperance Flat along with Sites Reservoir and Los Vaqueros Reservoir.
“Just how much will be the question.”
“I am optimistic we will be funded through a combination of the state, federal and private money to build the Temperance Flat dam,” he said at a news conference in Fresno.
The Water Commission is expected to allocate funding by May or June of next year. The Commission, through the Water Storage Investment Program, will fund the public benefits of these projects. Eligible projects must also provide measurable benefits to the Delta ecosystem or its tributaries.
Kings County rep on the Valley JPA, Supervisor Doug Verboon, says the reservoir is unique."This is the only new storage project south of the delta" that has been the choke point for water starved central and southern California. "Working with our region's neighbors we can improve water conditions here for everybody, helping our groundwater."
In water short years like the recent drought, not enough water is moved south to satisfy the needs of farms and cities in the Valley and a new supply that does not depend on or pass through the Delta is welcome.
Backers of the proposed Temperance Flat Dam and Reservoir say the $2.8 billion project would capture and store additional water in the San Joaquin River watershed, creating greater flexibility, relaxing pressure on groundwater and providing other benefits to the region.
Temperance Flat would add 1.26 million acre-feet of storage to Millerton's existing storage of 520,000 acre-feet, helping to resolve a nagging problem. In wet years, Friant Dam is too small to handle abundant runoff from the Sierra that comes every four to five years causing flood problems and requiring valuable water to be shuttled out to sea.
In other years east side water contractors find themselves short water because the dam has little storage for carry over in these alternative dry/wet periods.
Unlike the current arrangement, Temperance Flat is being touted to potentially benefit not just existing east side water districts along the Friant Kern Canal through the Central Valley project - but westside districts and entire regions as well.
Sharon McHale, a branch chief for the Bureau of Reclamation Mid-Pacific Region, which operates the CVP, said the project needs more storage to meet current and future needs.
"We have a lot of years where we're short, where we can't provide our full contract amount to contractors in the Friant Division," McHale said.
"We are not providing any water to Westside contractors at this point from the existing (Friant) dam, so it (Temperance Flat) would provide water to two groups of contractors that do agricultural irrigation and are in need of additional supplies and water supply reliability," she said.
One would think the big beneficiary of more water on the upper San Joaquin would be the existing east side water contractors that include Friant Water Authority and their breakaway group - the South Valley Water Authority that includes districts from Ivanhoe south to Shafter.
But neither group has joined or formally backed the JPA even as this critical application is filed with the Commission. “We are still negotiating with Friant,” says Worthley adding he is "optimistic we will come to an agreement.”
At the JPA meeting in July the minutes show that Friant Water Authority wanted reduced dues to join, $20,000 instead of $50,000, a proposal rejected by a majority of the rest of the JPA. Worthley says since then there has been a meeting of the minds on money.
Friant Water CEO Jason Phillips confirms progress in talks. "I expect we will join the JPA."
But South Valley Water Authority Executive Director Dan Vink says the backdrop on his own group’s hesitancy to back the project is based on “lack of agreement within the JPA over who will benefit from the extra water.” He worries the unlike Sites Reservoir's backers where there is agreement over just how the water will be used - Temperance backers are still scrambling now at the 11th hour.
Vink explains that currently the Bureau delivers water to irrigation districts on the east side from the San Joaquin watershed but the new plan might expand that benefit to so-called "white areas" where there is no delivery of surface water. Also, the JPA includes westside members who will want to see direct benefits. That might mean less water for the existing group of water districts. So the pie could get smaller.
Some east side districts who enjoy receiving cheap floodwater currently, when there is too much, fear they will lose that benefit under a new agreement.
A tension has also developed in part because the new state groundwater ordinance has the practical effect on any parcel that has little prospect of water will now, not be able to plant a crop on that land. The upshot is that we will see fewer acres of irrigated farmland in the region.
But them that got it - want to keep it.
Worthley appears to embrace the idea of helping these “white areas” with the Temperance project.
He says Temperance Flat would provide surface supplies to allow for groundwater recharge, which would help the region comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
"SGMA mandates we put in plans for the overdrafted groundwater basins, so places like Raisin City (that rely only on groundwater), if they don't get some type of surface water and recharge opportunities, they are going to have to start fallowing," Worthley said. "Without this project, especially with (SGMA), we are going to lose a very significant portion of this region's ability to feed this country.”
Valley groundwater management, under the new law, will be in full swing long before Temperance is storing water - 10 years from now, if we are lucky.
Temperance Flat Dam and Reservoir have been under consideration for decades. The proposed project’s site was the originally proposed location for a Millerton area reservoir in 1930. The present Friant Dam location was selected to reduce construction costs.
Project benefits include increased regional water supply reliability and system operational flexibility that would increase water supply, enhance fish habitat, flood control and recreation as well as improve reliability for municipal and industrial users. Being able to capture and hold high flows until there is conveyance and percolation capacity available for moving the water to distant aquifer recharge and banking facilities is critical for improving the Valley’s groundwater management. Temperance Flat would create an important storage facility south of the environmentally stressed Delta that could also be used, if absolutely necessary, in an emergency.