Four years of record drought have demonstrated that California needs to find ways to save more water. That’s what Central California’s newest water agency has been formed to do.
The San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority started work over the past few months with the goal of finding ways to develop new surface water storage and other infrastructure that benefits the entire region.
New storage has long been talked about in Central and Northern California. The proposed Sites Reservoir in Colusa County would be the largest in the north state.
In the San Joaquin Valley, a new reservoir with the name of an old gold mining camp, Temperance Flat, is the leading candidate and the one in which the new authority is most interested.
It would be located on the San Joaquin River upstream from Friant Dam and within Millerton Lake, about 30 miles northeast of downtown Fresno.
The Temperance Flat proposal, initiated in 2000, has successfully passed four highly technical reports, one preliminary federal feasibility report and it is expected to pass its final feasibility study in April.
There are good reasons why five counties – Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tulare and Kings – created the new authority. Our counties have borne the brunt of massive reductions in Central Valley Project water availability that has occurred over the past decade as a result not only of drought but of ever-more-stringent federal regulatory actions and court decisions.
Hardest hit have been farms irrigated with Central Valley Project water and the surrounding rural communities in the nation’s most productive agricultural counties. Many of the 600,000 acres of San Joaquin Valley farmland that have been fallowed in recent years are within these five counties.
Far too many people, the vast majority low income, have lost their jobs on farms and in support industries and now must stand in lines for food and seek public assistance.
The San Joaquin River discharges an average of about 1.8 million acre-feet a year into Millerton Lake, but it can hold only 520,000 acre-feet. The Temperance Flat reservoir would increase the capacity to approximately 1.5 million acre-feet.
In wet years, Millerton can’t contain the river. That’s why over the past 30 years, 15 million acre-feet of San Joaquin River flood releases have been lost to the ocean – enough to supply Fresno for about 100 years.
A new reservoir would boost water supplies, enhance flood protection, help the environment and help us meet the new state groundwater rules by recharging aquifers and thereby halting land subsidence.
The cities, counties, water agencies and tribal councils that make up the authority are actively seeking state funding from the 2014 state water bond. We’re also working to engage the federal government as a partner to get design and construction on Temperance Flat moving.
We know any new reservoir will be challenging and expensive. However, having already seen what happens when water supplies run dry for so many Valley people, we simply can’t afford not to make such an investment.
Steve Worthley, a Tulare County supervisor, is president of the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.