Hope on the Horizon, but Questions Still Unanswered for California Water Systems
By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor
Funding awarded for the new Temperance Flat Dam may have fallen short, but hopes for construction are still very much alive. Jason Phillips, Director of Friant Water Authority and alumni of the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority, has insight as to why those involved with the project are still optimistic.
According to Phillips, the Temperance Flat project is being moved to a joint power authority (JPA), an action that was previously expected.
“Part of the process is to take the application that the water infrastructure authority submitted and move it to the implementing agency. So this is a really positive step moving forward for implementing the project,” Phillips explained.
He further added, “This is not the result of any kind of conflict. This is exactly what has been envisioned.”
Although progress is being made towards the Temperance Flat JPA, the question as to how existing water structures will be repaired still stands. After Californians failed to pass Prop 3, there has been much anticipation around issues like water supply and infrastructure restoration.
“We’re going to be working with this administration on whether another water bond might make sense or whether there are other mechanisms to help finance the infrastructure to keep farming viable in the valley,” Phillips said.
Jason Phillips on Groundwater Recharge, Water Bond, and Subsidence
Editor’s Note: Jason Phillips is the CEO of the Friant Water Authority, as well as a member of the Board of Directors with the San Joaquin Water Infrastructure Authority (SJWIA), which is behind the building of Temperance Flat Dam. Editor Patrick Cavanaugh sat down with Jason Phillips, and this interview reflects the topics discussed.
Cavanaugh: The California Water Commission rejected all of the storage proposals for Prop 1 money due to all applicants not showing enough in the public benefit ratio. They have all appealed to the Commission, and their decision will be at the end of July. It’s extraordinary that the California Water Commission does not see groundwater recharge as a public benefit.
Phillips: The law was written in such a way that groundwater recharge, which is what we desperately need, is not considered a public benefit. But I must say that the SJWIA team putting together the application did a great job of using water out of Temperance for multiple benefits, including salmon and keeping water in the valley for groundwater recharge, and I hope the Water Commission can see that.
Cavanaugh: The Commission requires a 1:1 ratio, meaning for every $1 spent on the project, it must benefit the public by $1. Temperance Flat Dam was shown that for each $1 spent, it would give back $3.
Phillips: That’s right, and that’s what is necessary. Anybody who looks into what salmon requires surviving—well, it’s cold water. So the ability to generate more cold water in the upper San Joaquin River is nearly impossible. So if you can get a new reservoir over 600 feet high and have a cold water pool, that would provide a benefit. And that’s what the consultant looked at. The commission in their initial analysis assigned zero benefits to salmon, so that’s why we got such a low score.
But if you look at alternatives to trying to provide that salmon benefit in the river, there aren’t a lot of other options, which is why it’s such a significant benefit for Temperance. And again, it’s not sending the water out of the valley by sending it to the San Joaquin River and recirculating it back to growers and cities … so that we can get the groundwater recharge.
Cavanaugh: Of course, Temperance Flat Dam will triple the current storage of Millerton Lake, and a significant benefit will be groundwater storage?
Phillips: It would almost exclusively help groundwater storage because the surface supplies that are generated in Temperance would be used to supplement what’s being pumped, so people can put that water in groundwater recharge basins or they’re able to use the water and not have their groundwater pumps running. That is the absolute best form of recharging, is somewhat able to shut their groundwater pump off, have a delivery of surface water instead of that, and let the natural recharge take place.
Cavanaugh: Let’s talk about the new $8.9 billion water bond that will be on the November 2018 ballot and written by Jerry Merel, a former deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources and a longtime water-project advocate.
Phillips: About 18 months, Jerry had a conversation with me about what would the San Joaquin Valley need in a water bond to help get it out of the problem that … it’s in with groundwater overdraft? And recognizing that Prop 1 was the state’s path for Temperance Flat and that there’s a different path for the tunnels, north of the Delta. So those two are not part of this November 2018 bond.
And I told Dr. Merel at the time that we needed to fix our canal system. We have to be able to move water when it’s available to the growers, into the cities, and never miss a drop of available surface water. And to do that, we have to fix the Friant–Kern canal and the Madera canal. We have to expand the conveyance between the existing canals. And he thought that was a great idea. It’s something that should have broad statewide support. It has support from conservation groups up and down the valley.
Cavanaugh: Is this specifically for canal infrastructure repair?
Phillips: It is specifically for infrastructure for conveyance projects that would help recharge the groundwater aquifer.
Cavanaugh: The $9 Billion has a lot of water for all regions of state?
Phillips: it’s broader than just infrastructure. It targets the different regions of the state for what they need most. Recycling and desalination are huge for the southern California coastal community. So it targets cost sharing money there. If you go to northern California, there are things that Sacramento rice growers really need to support their water needs. In the central valley, it’s more water infrastructure for conveyance that can complement new storage and water conveyance in the Delta. It also includes a lot of money to help the groundwater sustainability agencies fund their plans that are required under the groundwater law.
Cavanaugh: Prop 1 was $2.7 billion, and this one is nearly $9 billion.
Phillips: That is… it is real money. And I think what California will realize is that there’s a real need for that. And when you look at the size of California, and it’s projected that the bond money will be used as far south as San Diego and the Salton Sea and as far north for repairs at Oroville.
When you look at the scope of the state of California … you see that the need is much bigger than that, when it comes to the state’s water infrastructure.
And regarding the $2.7 for storage—on top of that, the projects will require substantial private investment. And we are all looking at that, and I think there’s a lot of interest. There’s still a need for more storage to the extent that even the water agencies themselves and the growers that are part of those agencies are willing to fund. And we’re still looking at whether the state or federal governments will help cost share it.
Cavanaugh: if the California Water Commission never funds Temperance Flat, is it possible to get it privately funded?
Phillips: Friant Water Authority and other water agencies in the valley are actively and aggressively looking at that right now, doing our feasibility studies to look at whether privately financing the reservoir would make sense. I think it probably will, but it’s a very complicated analysis that we have to do. So by the end of the summer, we’ll hear from the Water Commission, and we should know more about the feasibility of private financing will be available.
Cavanaugh: Regarding the Jerry Merel water bond, where can people go to get more information?
Phillips: People can go to waterbond.org. You can see whether you want to look at it in one page or whether you want to look at the actual text of the bond. It’s straightforward on that website.
Cavanaugh: From where would the investment for the new water bond come?
Phillips: It will all be state dollars and depending on the different categories of where the funding goes. Some of it is for cost-shared work, in the San Joaquin Valley on infrastructure, where it would 100 percent bond funded. No reimbursement required and the money would come straight to the Friant Water Authority for immediate use. We’ve already worked with Department of Water Resources to make sure that, that when the bond passes, we could start submitting requests for some of that funding immediately to begin working on the canal, as early as November 2018.
Cavanaugh: How bad is the subsidence along the Friant Kern Canal?
Phillips: It’s a big problem, and it’s growing. The worst part of it is near the middle of the 152-mile canal, where it has subsided three feet and continues to subside. That subsidence is since 2015. The capacity of the canal has been reduced by about 60%, due to subsidence.
To pass the same amount of flow through that section, the elevation of the water in the canal is very near the top of the canal. And five bridges are impacted by that section where the water comes right up to the bridge, and we’re only at 40 percent of the design capacity there.
Urgent Need to Call CA Legislators and Suggest Opposition to AB 2975 (Friedman)
Below is a letter sent by the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority to Valley Legislators, requesting their help in stopping AB 2975. As you may be aware, this legislation is a slightly different version from last years AB 975 by the same author.
Please do not believe the author’s staff if they state that this legislation is not targeting the Temperance Flat Reservoir project; it is. Not only would the TFR project be in jeopardy, but other future projects in other tributaries would be as well. Again, they may suggest “approve with amendments.” Just say “NO.” If this door is opened even a fraction, we will not be able to close it when they decide to enhance it.
Simply put, it is a means by which the State of California could override Federal actions.
Our understanding is that the bill is heading to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, so please communicate with committee members with concerns.
Dear San Joaquin Valley Members of the Senate and Assembly:
On behalf of the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority (SJVWIA), I am writing to express our opposition to AB 2975 (Friedman). As you may know, this bill is very similar to legislation, AB 975, proposed in 2017 by Assembly Member Friedman, legislation which the SJVWIA also opposed.
This latest bill again seeks to expand the scope of the state’s Wild and Scenic Rivers Act with potential adverse impacts on the state’s water supply system, water supply development, water rights and drought response.
It is obvious that a particular (although unnamed) target of the legislation is the proposed Temperance Flat Project on the San Joaquin River, northeast of Fresno. Under the previous federal administration, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposed to include much of the San Joaquin River within the footprint of Temperance Flat Reservoir under the federal Wild and Scenic River Act. That proposal has been withdrawn by the Trump Administration.
Temperance Flat is a project that enjoys wide public support within the San Joaquin Valley in recognition of benefits it would provide in implementing the state’s new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) and addressing water supply needs that are so evident because of California’s continuing water crisis. As you well know, our region is Ground Zero for the worse of the state’s water crisis impacts and negative effects.
The SJVWIA was organized by five San Joaquin Valley counties, plus cities and special districts, with the objective of applying for state bond financing under the Water Storage Investment Program (WSIP) directed toward Temperance Flat development and constructively address these problems.
We know you understand Temperance Flat would provide a vitally-needed source of additional surface water storage. A large dam would be constructed within the upper reaches of existing Millerton Lake to form the new reservoir, which would have a capacity of 1.3 million acre-feet. More than 20 years of federal investment and study, directed and carried out at a cost of more than $36 million to date by the Interior Department and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, have gone into the Temperance Flat project since 1995. This analysis has scrutinized project needs, benefits, operational challenges and related issues. The project would provide much needed additional water for San Joaquin River restoration.
Unfortunately, the SJVWIA has found it necessary to act and devote limited resources to opposing not only an obstructionist federal wild and scenic rivers proposal, but these state bills proposed by Assembly Member Friedman. This bill’s language could be a complete, permanent and fatal obstruction to developing Temperance Flat’s vastly increased and vitally-needed water storage capability, which is so essential for complying with SGMA, solving the valley’s water crisis and meeting regional environmental needs.
Ironically, the San Joaquin River reach within the Temperance Flat footprint can never attain “wild” or “free flowing” conditions. Upstream are seven major dams and nine smaller dams, developed over the past century by Southern California Edison Company and Pacific Gas and Electric Company to store and divert water into a dozen power plants where electricity is generated. Under most conditions, what some are proposing as a “wild” and “free-flowing” river carries just a tiny flow for fish because most of the river’s discharge is routed through two PG&E power plants.
The Friedman bill’s provisions are nothing less than a poorly-disguised ploy to hamper and discourage further surface water development. We see no reason why current state law should be broadened to expand designated “wild and scenic” areas as this measure purports to intend doing.
For these reasons, the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority opposes AB 2975 and respectfully requests your “NO” vote when the bill is taken up. If you or members of your staff have any questions, please contact Executive Director Mario Santoyo at (559) 779-7595, or by electronic mail at Msantoyo@sjvwia.org.
It was an historic day in terms of fixing California’s water infrastructure. The application was signed and submitted to the California Water Commission on Monday for funding, getting one step closer to building the Temperance Flat Dam behind the Friant Dam and Millerton Lake northeast of Fresno. Mario Santoyo is Executive Director of the San Joaquin Water Infrastructure Authority, and they’ve worked mighty hard over the last 10 years to get to this step.
“That came together with support from five counties, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tulare, and Kings, in putting together an application to the State of California Water Commission under what they call their Water Storage Investment Program,” Santoyo said.
Monday was the official deadline for those requesting funding for construction of projects. The money comes from the 2012 water bond, which allocated $7.12 billion to improve California’s water infrastructure.
Santoyo said that the application they submitted is requesting $1.3 billion.
“That funding would initiate the construction of the Temperance Flat Dam, creating the Temperance Flat Reservoir,” Santoyo explained.
“This would enhance the storage by 1.26 million acre-feet, thereby tripling capacity of the current Millerton Lake Reservoir, saving all this water that’s currently going to the ocean due to Millerton’s lake under supply.
“Temperance Flat Reservoir water will provide surface water deliveries as well as water to recharge groundwater storage. “This will create a much more reliable water supply to the farmers and the cities here in the San Joaquin Valley,” Santoyo said.
The applicants for this and other proposed projects should know sometime in early 2018 if their projects were funded.
“This is a major event, a significant milestone in terms of the process to get Temperance Flat Dam built.” Santoyo said. “In essence, it is a partnership between the new joint powers of authority and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and, more specifically, their study team who worked on the technical studies and the feasibility reports for Temperance Flat.”
Merced, Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare Counties are joining forces with leaders of cities, Tribes, and other agencies to begin this significant move towards building the Temperance Flat Dam. “Working together, we are going to put the application together and submit it to the California Water Commission for their consideration for funding through Proposition 1, Chapter 8,” Santoyo said. “It’s a solid statement that needs a signature.”
“It’s a memorandum of understanding between the Bureau of Reclamation and the joint powers of authority,” he said, “that defines the scope of work. In essence, it’s full cooperation between their technical people and our joint powers of authority. Our people are tailoring the application to the state to optimize funding. Keep in mind, we’re talking big dollars here; we are not talking a million or a hundred million; we are talking a billion.”
Temperance Flat Dam would create nearly 1.3M acre-feet of new water storage, according to the SJWIA, 2.5 times the current capacity of Millerton Lake, and would be a part of the Federal Central Valley Project.
“Chapter 8, which is the storage chapter in Prop 1, has $2.7 billion in it,” Santoyo explained. “Projects that are submitted for funding are limited to up to 50% of the capital costs of their project. If we were to take Temperance Flat, for instance, that’s going to cost somewhere around $2.8 billion. The maximum you could ask from the state is $1.4 billion, but we don’t expect that because there is a lot of competition. There’s not enough dollars to go around. We’re hoping to shoot for somewhere around $1 billion.”
“I see [the July 1 event] as being historic,” Santoyo reflected, “because it is one of the most critical things to happen—to be able to build Temperance Flat, as well as a good opportunity to be at a place where history’s being made.”
For more information, contact Mario Santoyo at 559-779-7595.
Featured image: Mario Santoyo, executive director of the San Joaquin Water Infrastructure Authority (SJWIA)