Opinion Columns & Blogs

Temperance Flat distracts from real water solutions

This is a view to the north over the edge of Big Table Mountain into the gorge containing the upper reaches of Millerton Lake near Temperance Flat.
This is a view to the north over the edge of Big Table Mountain into the gorge containing the upper reaches of Millerton Lake near Temperance Flat. The Fresno Bee file

The Fresno Bee editorial “Temperance Flat is linchpin of Valley’s water future” omitted critical facts about this project, including how much water it will reliably produce, who will actually benefit from that water, and how much it will really cost.

The reality is that this dam will never produce as much water as promised and it will only be built if state and federal taxpayers are saddled with the lion’s share of its multibillion-dollar price tag.

Worse yet, spending billions on this dam will suck limited public resources away from more innovative water solutions that increase agricultural productivity while protecting what remains of free-flowing rivers in California. Simply improving irrigation scheduling could yield 3.4 million acre-feet of water in California. Reaching just 5 percent of that potential would yield twice as much water as Temperance Flat.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the lead agency for this project, states that Temperance Flat would yield an average of just 76,000 acre-feet – less than 1 percent of California’s water budget for a dam costing at least $2.6 billion and likely much more. A reservoir’s actual yield is the critical number to consider. Given how small it is in this case, it’s clear why proponents only speak to the reservoir’s maximum design capacity. It sounds a lot better, but it’s also wildly misleading.

Who would get this small amount of water? All but one of the bureau’s plans call for exporting the water to the municipal and industrial customers in Southern California instead of local growers. Despite claims that it would help recharge local groundwater, none of the bureau’s plans call for using this water for groundwater recharge.

The Dec. 4 editorial rightly points out that climate change and warmer temperatures are important to note. However, the more likely reality is that there will be less total precipitation in the Southern Sierra. It will grow hotter and drier as opposed to simply changing from snow to rain.

If proponents of Temperance Flat are truly concerned about climate change, they can help by advocating for aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Devin Nunes are rampant climate deniers and our president-elect glibly claimed it’s a hoax. Public officials who don’t believe in climate change are cynically lying to their constituents if they use it as a talking point to convince taxpayers to foot the bill for dams. We can’t afford to let them get away with that.

We must also remember that the San Joaquin is a fully appropriated river with eight dams already in place. The State Water Resources Control Board has determined that no more water rights are available there. Dam proponents can try to convince them otherwise, but that is a challenge with a river that dries up in most years.

We urge your readers to look under the hood of this project. Find out what it really does instead of trusting bureaucrats to do right by the Valley. Don’t take it from us or the salespeople for Temperance Flat. All of the information and links to agency planning documents are available in the San Joaquin section of our website at www.friendsoftheriver.org.

We can debate and litigate this project at every step of the way, and have our own version of Standing Rock, but we would much rather spend our very limited time and money working collaboratively toward real solutions. We hope you will join us at that table.

Eric Wesselman is executive director of Friends of the River. Anita Lodge is a resident of Auberry.