Wednesday, March 1, 2017


Ithuriel's Spears and Fiesta Flowers

     Let’s hope someone out there still respects the facts. The Fresno Bee, which has repeatedly trumpeted its support for a dam at Temperance Flat, obviously does not. Sad, since in the San Joaquin Valley The Fresno Bee has maintained a monopoly on the news for decades.
     Reading the Friends of the River Fact Sheet, you can’t help but notice that the proposal for Temperance Flat Dam is a mess of uncertainties and unmitigated problems and that the dam itself would not provide much new water, mainly because eight large dams and reservoirs already divert most of the flow of the San Joaquin River, which often runs dry northwest of Fresno. The San Joaquin River is fully appropriated, which means the State Water Resources Control Board has determined that no more water rights are available. Moreover, a recent UC Davis study found that the state has over-allocated water rights in the San Joaquin River by an astounding 861%, which remains an unresolved issue for any new dam on the river.
     In fact, The Bureau of Reclamation, which completed a draft feasibility report and an environmental impact statement for the dam, examined five different project alternatives but was “unable to identify any preferred alternatives because of serious unresolved issues and a number of project uncertainties.” And even though the dam would produce relatively little new water, it would cost state and federal taxpayers billions of dollars, at a time when, according to The Fresno Bee, taxpayers are currently looking at a bill of $52 billion to shore up already existing dams and levees and another $57 billion in deferred maintenance for roads. Billions more are needed for construction and maintenance for schools and universities as well.
     One of the most important points, which dam supporters, including The Fresno Bee, invariably overlook, is that the dam would drown 5,000 acres of public land, a recreation area known as The San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area (formerly known as Squaw Leap). Another point they fail to mention: This land belongs to all of us, including our children and grandchildren. Nevertheless, dam supporters insist that we, the public, pay billions for the destruction of our own land even though the dam would not benefit farmers in the Valley as a whole very much. The water is spoken for, so the people with the water rights are asking the public to pay billions and to give up our land mainly for their benefit.
     According to the fact sheet, although Temperance Flat Dam could store up to 1.331 MAF13 of water, the Bureau of Reclamation concluded that the new dam would increase average annual water deliveries by only 61,000-94,000 acre feet (depending on the emphasis of the operational scenario). The project alternative that stands as the potential front runner is modeled to produce 70,000 acre-feet, 21,000 in a dry or critically dry year. (To put that in perspective, Reclamation’s Central Valley Project produces 7 million acre-feet. Statewide water use is 42 million acre-feet.) According to the NRDC, investments in water conservation and regional water supplies have consistently been far more cost effective and less environmentally damaging than investments in new, large reservoir projects in California.
     The Friends of the River fact sheet does not mention other possible alternatives, such as recharge basins in the Valley, water conservation, and the planting of sustainable crops. 
     The fact sheet also does not mention that an element of risk always exists with any dam, which can be summed up by three little words: Things. Fall. Apart. The immediate bill for the failing spillways of the Oroville Dam is in the hundreds of millions. The incredibly long list of dams that have failed in recent history does not inspire confidence either. With three dams, Kerckhoff, Temperance Flat, and Friant, all in a row like dominos, the failure of one dam could lead to the catastrophic failure of one or more of the other two, which could potentially have far worse impacts than the Oroville disaster, which so far has included the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people.
     The San Joaquin River is among the most heavily dammed and diverted rivers in America. It ranked number one on the list of most endangered rivers in 2014. In 2016, only one other river system ranked higher on the list than the San Joaquin. Unfortunately, there are not many pristine stretches of the river left for the public to enjoy. Why should the public give up so much for so little, especially when far more effective alternatives exist?
     I know we are dealing with facts here, but I have just one wish. We are stuck with a president who doesn’t respect facts, but can’t we just puh-leeeease have our local newspaper report the facts on this issue for once?

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