As California heads into what may be a third consecutive dry year, rural farming communities must once again prepare for a significant drought. According to a recent estimate from the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), approximately 300,000 to 500,000 acres of farmland could lie fallow this year if water supply needs are not met. Unsustainable groundwater overdraft is yet another possible consequence of a dry winter in which nine of California’s 12 major reservoirs are below 50 percent capacity.
While it may be difficult to generate more rainfall and snowfall, it is possible to do a better job collecting, storing, and transferring what rain and snow does arrive. Last December, 3rd District Assemblyman and Chief Republican Whip Dan Logue proposed a $5.8 billion bond (AB 1445) for two water storage projects — Sites Reservoir near Maxwell and Temperance Flats Dam near Fresno – that may be an answer to water woes in the north state.
Introduced as a substitute to Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed $25 billion Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), which calls for two massive water transport tunnels and thousands of acres of Delta habitat restoration, AB 1445 strives to mitigate snowpack storage losses, contribute to flood damage reduction in the Central Valley, and facilitate ecosystem restoration in the Sacramento River while also protecting north state water rights.
Still slated for the November 2014 ballot is the $11 billion water bond that was negotiated back in 2009. Family Water Alliance has followed the progress of that bond measure over the years, and it is clear that Californians are hesitant to pass such a high dollar bond measure laden with many pet projects. The bond currently set for the ballot has a total of $3 billion dollars set aside for water storage projects. That bond money can only be used to pay for the public benefit portions of the projects, which accounts for about 50 percent of the price tag. Current efforts in the legislature to reduce the bond measure agreed to in 2009 have many fearing that the storage portion of the bond would be cut so severely that it would be difficult to actually be able to construct any new reservoirs in the state. For those reasons Assemblyman Logue’s proposal should garner considerable support from those who clearly see the water supply challenges that face California.
Beginning in the 1990s, many potential water storage sites were screened by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). Following cost and environmental impact analyses, Sites and Temperance Flat Reservoirs were selected due to their potential to supply the most water storage and broadest benefits in regards to water quality, flood management, and ecosystem restoration. DWR cost estimates from 2007 forecast Sites costing between $2.3 to 3.2 billion, while Temperance Flat comes in at approximately $1.4 billion.
If approved, the Sites Reservoir would be located off-stream, inundating grassland currently used for cattle grazing. Minor percentages of Sacramento River water would be diverted into the reservoir, leaving more than enough flows to meet all existing regulatory and diversion requirements in the Delta.
Temperance Flat was selected with the goals of enhancing restoration efforts on the San Joaquin River from Friant Dam to the Merced River, improving San Joaquin River water quality, and providing increased operational flexibility to ensure water supply allocations and enhance hydropower generation.
The storage potential for both Sites and Temperance Flat is significant. Sites is expected to yield between 470,000 to 640,000 acre feet of water annually, while Temperance Flat will likely yield up to 183,000 acre feet. One acre foot of water is equal to 326,000 gallons.
Having been formally introduced at the state capitol, Assemblyman Logue’s AB 1445 must now work its way through the legislature.
“It will require a two-thirds vote in both the Assembly and the Senate,” Logue said. “If approved, it will then be submitted to the Governor for his signature. If for some reason the bill fails to be approved by the Assembly, Senate or Governor there is always the possibility of gathering signatures to have it placed on the ballot if need be.”
Timing could not be better for those who support water storage projects. Sometimes it takes the harsh reality of drought to get something accomplished.