Friday, July 1st, will mark an escalation in the attack on California’s rivers and evidence-based water policies. On that date, the federal Bureau of Reclamation and the recently formed San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority will publicly launch a joint effort to complete technical work needed to finish a feasibility study on the proposed Temperance Flat Dam and Reservoir. If built, the 665-foot-tall, 3,360-foot-wide dam on the San Joaquin River in the San Joaquin River Gorge would be the second tallest dam in California. This is bad news for the San Joaquin River and the fish and other wildlife that once made it home.
The San Joaquin has eight existing dams, and most of the river’s flow is already captured and diverted. The river rarely flows into the ocean. Additionally, all of the water in the river is already spoken for—the state has promised more water than is available by a whopping 861%. Any “new” water would go to existing users, and it would be irresponsible to promise “new” water to anyone.
Californians can produce more water for less money
The Bureau of Reclamation estimates that the $2.8-billion Temperance Flat Dam will yield 19,000 to 30,000 acre-feet of water in dry years and 61,000 to 87,000 acre-feet in normal years. We can produce more water for less money by increasing groundwater banking, reusing and recycling water, and harnessing flood flows into natural flood basins. Additionally, efficiency frees up water—California residents saved 1,300,000 acre-feet in the 8 months between June 2015 and March 2016.
Reclamation has spent approximately 36 million tax dollars to date studying and promoting this project. The new effort is to finish documentation so the project can compete for state water bond funds. 2014’s Proposition 1 water bond designated $2.7 billion for “public benefits” of water storage projects; the Temperance Flat Dam project will request more than half of this total: $1.4 billion! Central Valley agribusiness will be the primary beneficiaries of this project, but taxpayers will be the primary funders.
The project will harm salmon
Although Reclamation claims that one of the primary project purposes is for “environmental benefits,” independent biologists have found that Temperance Flat Dam will harm salmon habitat and degrade downstream water quality.
Temperance Flat Dam will flood important ecological, recreational, cultural and community values within the San Joaquin River Gorge
Over 54,000 people enjoy visiting the San Joaquin River Gorge each year, boosting the local economy. This gorgeous area is home to the unique Millerton Cave System, a Native American Educational and Interpretive Center, a ~10 mile whitewater run, numerous hiking and equestrian trails, rich botanical resources, and 30 known and possible sensitive, threatened, or endangered species. The Bureau of Land Management has recognized the outstanding values of the San Joaquin River as it flows through the Gorge, and has recommended this reach for designation as a National Wild and Scenic River. All of these habitats, recreational, and cultural resources will be inundated if the proposed dam is built.
The Sierra Club and at least seven other advocacy groups are working to stop this project and redirecting our public resources to developing sustainable water practices and technologies. Contact the Bay Chapter Water Committee co-chair Heinrich Albert at heinrich.albert at outlook.com to learn more.