As you might know, we recently won a battle in the war against Temperance Flat. It was an important battle, but we have not won the war. On May 2nd, the California Water Commission gave the Temperance Flat Dam project the second from the lowest public benefit ratio of all the projects that have made it this far in the Proposition 1 money allotment process.
In 1939 the Temperance Flat site was passed over in favor of Friant Dam. This decision was not based on the cost or size of the project as the proponents of TFD would like you to believe. At that time Grand Coulee and Hoover dams had already been built, proving our ability to take on such large projects; however, based on the flow of the San Joaquin River, and the eight other major dams above that location on the river, a dam of that size did not make sense for the river. That fact hasn’t changed. There simply would not be enough water to fill a reservoir the size of the proposed Temperance Flat project.
In the late 1990s the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was given money by Congress to find water for California. They once again did a study of the Temperance Flat area, and once again it was thrown out for not making any financial sense based on costs and the very small yearly water yield. Do not let the full storage capacity of 1.3 million acre feet fool you; even the best estimates predict that the proposed dam would yield approximately 70,000 acre-feet annually. Recall all the photographs of mostly empty reservoirs during our last drought? That is what the proposed Temperance Flat reservoir would look like normally.
Today the TFD project has become a political campaign, a farce benefiting the careers of elected officials. The feasibility of the TFD project has strayed drastically from science and facts. Two months ago the state again judged this project as having no public or ecological benefits. Once again the cost/benefit ration does not make financial sense. But because politicians need a “for the people” campaign, some have insisted that the Water Commission take another look at this project. After all, close to half a million dollars of taxpayer monies have been spent to create the application for the Prop. 1 money. That is, they have spent half a million dollars of our money to ask us for over a billion dollars more of our money. And in order to continue asking for more money, they have recruited more taxpayer money. The city of Fresno recently gave them $300,000, to continue asking for money (the city of Fresno can’t pay for River West, but can give money to this project that has been decided to have no public benefit). The commissioners caved under the political pressure placed on this project and gave the TFD project $171.3 million, a far cry from the $1.1 billion they were asking for. Our money can certainly be better spent.
So what now? The hope of federal money is still alive for the TFD proponents. The individuals who would benefit the most from this project would love for us taxpayers to continue adding to their personal profits. Having contributed little to nothing toward TFD so far, those individuals will now have to step forward with their own monies. Until then, they are more than willing to let the taxpayers of the counties and cities of the San Joaquin Valley continue to dump money into this rather than anything that would provide actual solutions to our water needs. Too many people continue making their careers out of taxpayer dollars for this dead-end project. Vote them out of office; don’t allow this to be the campaign slogan of the next elections.
Anita Lodge is a resident of Auberry whose great-grandfather homesteaded where the Temperance Flat Dam would be built. Her family continues to own that property.