Millerton Lake
Temperance Flat is proposed for the upper San Joaquin River watershed above Millerton Lake near Fresno. The project would add another 1.2 million acre feet of storage to the system, aiding farmers and residents of the San Joaquin Valley.

Temperance Flat proponents appeal water commission decision

Earlier this year project proponents vying for part of a $2.7 billion pie to fund water storage in California were told their projects failed to meet public benefits requirements. Temperance Flat proponents hope to reverse that decision.

Temperance Flat proponents have not given up on their $2.8 billion project that would dam the upper San Joaquin River above Millerton Lake near Fresno, creating an additional 1.26 million acre feet of water storage.

Though the California Water Commission recently denied their request for a little over $1 billion in water bond money for the project, saying it provides no public benefit, proponents recently submitted a 19-page appeal letter and about 1,500 pages of explanations to the original proposal in hopes of winning a positive decision from the commission.

Temperance Flat is one of nearly a dozen projects vying for $2.7 billion in state bond money to address water storage needs across the state.

The project aims to build a dam at the upper end of Millerton Lake, a 520,500-acre-foot reservoir formed by Friant Dam near Fresno. Along with providing restoration flows to the river, Millerton Lake provides municipal water to cities and irrigation water to farmers from Chowchilla to Bakersfield.

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand said the project is important to Fresno, California’s fifth-largest city, not just for the water it could supply, but also it will be part of a larger “Recharge Fresno” project Brand says will, in part, aid the city in compliance under the Sustained Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which requires groundwater resources to be  managed sustainably.

Fresno County Supervisor Buddy Mendes said the appeal letter filed by the joint powers authority is technical and not legal in nature. It helps the water commission understand what Fresno County Supervisor Brian Pacheco calls “a complicated process.”

“This gives proponents a chance to answer the state’s concerns of the project and to address scoring issues,” Mayor Brand said.

Public Benefits

That scoring recently raised eyebrows when the water commission effectively denied all applicants their requests for a portion of state water bond funds. The commission claimed that none of the projects met the criteria established for “public benefits” under the water bond. Other project proponents criticized that decision, saying they were not initially told how those public benefits would be scored.

Since then Temperance Flat proponents learned that five criteria – ecosystem benefits, water quality, flood control, emergency response and recreation – will be considered when scoring the public benefits of the project.

Mendes said the project will generate $2.68 in public benefits for every dollar in public funds received from the state.

The California Water Bond, often referred to as Proposition 1 as it was named on the 2014 ballot, cannot provide 100 percent of the funding for any of the storage projects the water commission will ultimately approve. The rest of the money to build Temperance Flat will need to come from federal and private sources, said Mario Santoyo, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority. Along with the private funds will be money from the various irrigation districts that stand to benefit from the additional storage.

Pending adequate funds for the project, Montoyo hopes it can be fully operational by 2030, ten years ahead of when the state will require proven groundwater sustainability under SGMA.

Montoyo says the JPA will have an opportunity in April to present its case for funding to the full water commission board. Until now the denial of funding to Temperance Flat and the other projects was made by water commission staff.

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