Storage vs. conservation
Friant Dam and Millerton Lake on the San Joaquin River hold only half that of Pine Flat Reservoir on the Kings River. Advocates want another dam upstream at Temperance Flat. (Bureau of Reclamation photo)

HANFORD — For nearly two decades, supporters of a new dam above Millerton Lake on the San Joaquin River have touted its potential benefits.

They got new ammunition this week as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation issued a study concluding that the Temperance Flat project would provide multiple economic and environmental benefits and is technically and financially feasible.

The long-awaited study wasn’t released to coincide with the drought, but the timing couldn’t be better for Valley water advocates beating the drum for new storage.

The project technically wouldn’t send water directly to Kings County, but through the Friant-Kern Canal and through general groundwater recharge, the approximately one million additional acre-feet of storage capacity provided by the dam would trickle down into county aquifers and help reverse overdraft.

“There is a lot of recharge going on in that San Joaquin River basin,” said Kings County Supervisor Joe Neves. “It’s certainly good news.”

“It will help us down here in Kings,” he added. “You take a little pressure off the [surface water] demand that is not being met currently.”

The California Latino Water Coalition is expected to use the report to push harder for $3 billion in continuous dam financing in the water bond expected to go on the ballot in November.

“We’re just glad that it got done,” said Mario Santoyo, the coalition’s executive director. “Now we have a report that says, ‘Yeah, it’s feasible.’ The dialogue becomes easier.”

Santoyo estimated the project would cost $2.25 billion, with up to 50 percent coming from the bond. The rest would be supplied by private industry.

Dialogue about the project will include people in California’s powerful environmental community who have been highly resistant to new dam proposals. The bureau’s report was careful to balance the economic benefits of additional irrigation water with plans to use the dam to serve environmental objectives.

The additional storage would make more water available for the San Joaquin River restoration project for salmon. Flows were cut this month to send more river water to communities on the Valley’s east side that could run out of water this year.

The report also details outdoor recreation benefits, including boating, fishing and rafting.

“The unprecedented drought conditions that we are currently facing firmly reinforce the need to investigate projects like this one the help meet the challenges of lean water years,” said David Murillo, a Bureau of Reclamation regional director.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2432 and at Follow him on Twitter @SethN_HS.

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