Temperance Flat Denied Funding

All Hope Dries Up

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

Again, it came down to fish, specifically Chinook salmon, that forced the proposed Temperance Flat Dam out of the race for Proposition 1 funding for building new water storage projects.

Mario Santoyo and Temperance Flat Denied Funding
Mario Santoyo fought hard for Temperance Flat Dam funding.

For more than 20 years, the Temperance Flat Dam proposal was passionately advocated with unwavering support by Central Valley cities and the San Joaquin Valley Infrastructure Authority (SJVIA) who were behind the application. Temperance Flat came crumbling down Wednesday at the California Water Commission (CWC) meeting in Sacramento on the second day of discussion.

On Tuesday, CWC staff members assigned to crunch the Public Benefit Ratios for the project were solidly encased in concrete, refusing to grant the project any consideration for its ecosystem restoration benefits. The Dam would provide critical cold water to flow down the San Joaquin River, thus helping the salmon spawn.

CA Water Commission kills Temperance Flat funding
CA Water Commission denied funding for Temperance Flat Dam.

And while the official public benefit calculation came up short today, proponents already saw that the project was already on life support Tuesday, with a dire prognosis.

“Stunned is an understatement,” said Mario Santoyo, executive director of the SJVIA, who has worked for more than 18 years on the project. “Temperance Flat is the most critical water project ever proposed for the Central Valley, which is ground zero for significant water shortages that will not go away.”

It all boiled down to the Ecosystem Diagnosis and Treatment (EDT) model that was approved by Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources. Despite both approvals, that model did not jive with the Commission staff’s model, which undervalued the project’s public benefit ratio, killing the opportunity for Temperance Flat Dam to receive funding of more $1 billion for construction.

“We are working in an area of great uncertainty in professional judgment,” Bill Swanson, vice president, Water Resources Planning & Management for Stantec, a global planning and engineering firm, who presented data for the SJVIA. “We do not have fish in the river. We do not have empirical data. The only issue available to us is a comparison of how the system would respond to changes in flow, temperature and habitat,” Swanson said.

“That’s the reason we used the EDT model, the same model that the Bureau of Reclamation has used in their models of flow,” Swanson explained. “The SJVIA’s challenge was how to take the results of that model and analyze them to a level of detail that distinguishes the precision that we might want to have around the results,” said Swanson.

Bill Swanson
Stantec’s Bill Swanson advocated for Temperance Flat Dam funding.

“I’m very disappointed with the way they scored a great project that needed to be built,” noted Santoyo. “And I am not happy about one commissioner from Orange Cove who stabbed us in the back and scolded us on why we did not meet the Public Benefit Ratio. We did meet and exceed that ratio, but the CWC disagreed with our ecosystem restoration model that had been used by both the state and the feds.”

Several Water Commissioners publicly wrangled with their staff on how they could make the project work. They sought areas to increase the project’s cost-benefit evaluation to get it funded.

Commissioner Joe Del Bosque read the ballot text of Prop 1, approved by California voters by 67 percent in 2014. He reminded those present that voters expected a water storage project to be built, adding, “We need to find more certainty in order to get Temperance Flat built.”

Commissioner Daniel Curtain distinguished two parts to the discussion—physical and monetary. “Take a look and see if there is a physical benefit for ecosystem restoration. Finding a potential benefit and attaching a potential monetary benefit could be helpful,” he said.

The project was also short on points for recreation opportunities on what would be a new lake behind the 600-foot high dam east of Fresno, behind Friant Dam. Commissioner Joseph Byrne said he hoped for more thought given to the recreation cost benefit. “Intuitively, zero benefit does not make sense. We need a higher level of confidence in the estimated recreation cost-benefit,” he said.

CWC staff stipulated that while the newly created lake behind Temperance Flat Dam would accommodate boating activity, the lack of camping, hiking, and other activities within the existing San Joaquin River Gorge neutralized any recreation benefits.

If built, the Temperance Flat Reservoir would contain 1.26 million acre-feet of new water storage above Millerton Lake, northeast of Fresno. Temperance would have helped provide a more reliable supply of fresh drinking water for disadvantaged Valley communities. It would have enabled below-surface groundwater recharge, addressed extreme land subsidence and provided critical help to farmers facing severe groundwater restrictions due to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

Santoyo said the SJVWIA spent more than $2 million on the California Water Commission application, utilizing what he said were the most qualified engineers to develop the technical data required by Commission staff. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which administers California’s Central Valley Project for the U.S. Department of the Interior, has invested more than $38 million in studying the project. Santoyo said those studies supported the finding that the selected Temperance Flat site is the most preferred location for such a crucial project.

A Second Major Blow For Temperance Flat Dam

Water Commission Staff Again Slaps Down Temperance Flat Project

Editor’s note: In a stunning decision, California Water Commission staff, once again, rejected the Temperance Flat Dam Proposal. The San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority, which is managing the planning and building of Temperance Flat Dam, issued the following statement:

Water users, counties, and cities across much of the San Joaquin Valley have again found the California Water Commission staff to be unbending over efforts led by the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority (SJVWIA) to both develop Temperance Flat Dam and create badly-needed additional San Joaquin River water storage in a major new Central California reservoir.

Mario Santoyo, the Executive Director of the SJVWIA is stunned by the California Water Commission’s staff’s decision.

The Water Commission staff today reacted to the SJVWIA appeal in February of an earlier very low public benefit ratio score by assigning only a token improvement in point totals. Temperance Flat’s public benefit ratio was increased from 0.10 to 0.38. A score of 1.0 has been generally considered a minimum for an application to advance, reflecting the bond measure’s emphasis on benefits stressing the environment and flood protection.

Temperance Flat, which would be a reservoir containing 1.3 million acre-feet of new storage space above Millerton Lake northeast of Fresno, is one of the state’s two largest proposals seeking to be awarded some of the $2.7 billion in Proposition 1 funding for new storage projects.

The SJVWIA, in its application, calculated the Temperance Flat Project should have a public benefit ratio of 2.38. In its appeal, the SJVWIA sought a total of $1.055.3 billion in Proposition 1 funding under the Water Storage Investment Program but the latest CWC staff action would yield, if granted by the full commission, just over $177 million.

The other large proposed project, Sites Reservoir in Northern California, was similarly rebuffed.

“Once again the California Water Commission staff has hijacked what the people of California wanted and voted for,” said SJVWIA Executive Director Mario Santoyo. “The Water Commission staff has again failed to recognize the value of large storage projects by keeping Temperance Flat and Sites Reservoirs well below the 1.0 scoring level.” He noted only two of the remaining 11 projects had scores higher than 1.0. Both are small surface storage proposals. “We are, to say the least, disappointed and dumbfounded by this action.”

“This scoring is devastating but the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority is not giving up,” said Steve Worthley, SJVWIA president and chairman of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. “We’re going to take our case directly to the Water Commission staff next Wednesday (April 25) and then to the water commissioners themselves May 1-3.

The commissioners were assigned by Proposition 1 to make the decision on this. It’s important to remember that two-thirds of those casting ballots on Proposition 1 in the 2014 general election favored these bonds and what really attracted that level of support was the bond’s much-needed funding for major new storage projects such as ours.”

In fact, Worthley said, Proposition 1’s major storage provisions were written by the Legislature with big projects such as Temperance Flat and Sites specifically in mind.

In a lengthy letter today to the SJVWIA, the Water Commission staff indicated it accepted many of the arguments raised on appeal by the Temperance Flat project’s planners but increases in benefit scoring that were awarded on each item were merely minimal.

Santoyo said the SJVWIA has spent more than $2 million to date on the Water Commission application, utilizing what he said were the most qualified engineers to develop the technical data required by the commission staff. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which administers the Central Valley Project for the Interior Department, has invested more than $38 million in studying the project. He said those studies resulted in a finding that the selected Temperance Flat site is the most preferable location for such a project.

The SJVWIA was organized as a multi-jurisdictional joint powers authority in order to meet the need for coordinated Valley-wide leadership and collaboration in developing the Temperance Flat Project. The SJVWIA was formed by boards of supervisors in Tulare, Fresno, Kings, Madera and Merced Counties and also includes representatives from Valley cities and water agencies.

Worthley said the joint-powers agency’s “focus on our region’s water infrastructure needs is based upon a desire to help resolve the continuing San Joaquin Valley’s water supply crisis, and to capture floodwater flows that can be utilized regionally to help comply with the state’s new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. For too many years, the Valley has been enduring water shortages that adversely affect many of our counties’ constituents and the region’s economy. Temperance Flat represents a common sense approach and the Valley’s best opportunity to address these issues.”

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