Earth Log: San Luis Reservoir expansion pondered

FresnoDecember 10, 2013 

Federal authorities last week released a draft appraisal of enlarging San Luis Reservoir, the major watering hole in the center of the state. San Luis already had been hot news this year. Now it's hotter.

The reservoir usually gets a spotlight each summer as west San Joaquin Valley farms and Southern Californians call for more water. A lot of their water comes through San Luis, one big example of how California has radically replumbed nature.

The 2 million acre-foot reservoir has no natural stream to fill it. The water is pumped from Northern California rivers.

Drought and environmental pumping restrictions kept the reservoir level at near-record lows this past summer, much to the dismay of farmers and city folk. Their worries have made a lot of headlines this year.

Now there's talk of reservoir expansion, which raises hopes that more water can be sent to this watering hole when there is a big winter full of rain and snow. And that moves the discussion into the perennial fight over restoring the troubled Northern California water system that supplies San Luis.

I'm not going there today. Let's stay with San Luis Reservoir expansion instead.

The reservoir's earthen dam, 12 miles west of Los Banos, could be raised 20 feet to expand the reservoir by about 130,000 acre-feet of water, says the draft federal appraisal.

That's about a 6% increase in capacity, and the estimated cost is $360 million. But water supply isn't the only reason this appraisal was done, says the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The enlargement also would allow the federal government to shore up the dam and reduce earthquake risk — the Ortigalita fault crosses beneath the reservoir.

Expanding the reservoir also would help prevent algae blooms that affect water quality for city water users in the Santa Clara Valley Water District, according to the bureau.

This is not a new idea. It has been kicked around for many years. And this appraisal report is a far cry from being a construction project.

Keep your eye on it, though. California faces a possible third dry year in a row.

Cold-weather records tumble

As the frosty fight continues in the San Joaquin Valley's citrus groves, the arctic air invasion has hammered the West. Vancouver, Wash., was 9 degrees Monday morning. South Lake Tahoe hit minus-3. Meacham, Ore., had a minus-27. Fort Benton, Mont., was minus-37 on Saturday morning. Those are all records.

The National Weather Service said the freezing temperatures should ease off by the end of the week. We'll probably know more about possible citrus damage in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, meteorologists aren't seeing a lot of encouraging signs for stormy weather over the next week for this part of the state.

Fresno had rainless Decembers in 2011 and 1989. That won't happen this year. The city had .15 of an inch on Dec. 7.

The average here is 1.77 inches in December, according to the Weather Service. The combined totals from October, November and the first part of this month don't equal 1.77. But don't jump to any conclusions. A few storms can turn this around quickly.

The Fresno Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service