The San Joaquin River is threatened by a plan to build Temperance Flat Dam.
THE SAN JOAQUIN & TEMPERANCE DAM
Temperance Flat Dam would flood an incredible river gorge that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recommended for Wild & Scenic River protection in 2012.
Despite the enormous price tag of at least $2.6 billion, the dam would only yield 70,000 acre-feet of water per year on average. That’s less than .2% of California’s annual water use. The 665-foot dam would be the second highest in California and it would be built at the upper end of Millerton Reservoir–literally creating a reservoir within a reservoir. For a river that already doesn’t flow to the sea in most years, this project just doesn’t pass the laugh test, but the destruction it would cause is no laughing matter.
Bottom Line: This project would waste billions of public dollars to destroy an amazing river gorge for a tiny drop in the bucket.
The San Joaquin River & Gorge
The second largest river in California, the San Joaquin flows from the crest of the high Sierra westward towards the rich valley and then the river bed, if not the river itself, meanders north to the delta. The San Joaquin River Gorge has outstanding scenery, class IV-V whitewater rapids, an extensive trail system, two public campgrounds, an environmental education center, and a natural and cultural history museum that attract thousands of visitors to the San Joaquin River Gorge every year. The public lands in and surrounding the Gorge provide habitat for 11 sensitive, threatened, and endangered wildlife species. In addition, the dam will drown the unique Millerton Cave System, perhaps the world’s best example of a granite cave carved by a year-round flowing underground stream.
The natural and cultural values of the Gorge are so outstanding that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recommended Wild & Scenic River protection for more than five miles of the San Joaquin River Gorge in 2012, completing its Record of Decision in 2015. All the natural values in the Gorge and its Wild & Scenic River potential would be lost and many of its recreation amenities and visitor services would be degraded or require relocation if the Temperance Flat Dam were built.
The Threat: Temperance Flat Dam
The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) is proposing to build yet another huge dam on the San Joaquin River, claiming that this dam will actually benefit salmon and the environment. But many conservation, fishing, and recreational groups believe that the new proposed dam is simply business as usual for those who believe dams on already dried-up rivers are the solution to profligate water waste and misuse in the southern Central Valley – which means the San Joaquin River and its salmon restoration program are at risk.
Long regarded as the craziest dam idea in California (for more than half a century, the existing dams and canals have totally dried up the San Joaquin River downstream of Fresno in most years), the project to squeeze the last pittance of water from the river is enthusiastically backed by local politicians who successfully fought for billions of dollars for this and other dams in the California Water Bond (Proposition 1). In fact, they held the bond hostage in the California legislature until funding for the dam was made possible (although not certain) in the bond.
BOR even admits in the DEIS that the loss of the Gorge beneath the still waters of the Temperance Flat reservoir is a significant, unavoidable impact. According to the DEIS, the dam would also significantly and unavoidably impact air quality, fisheries, riparian habitat, wildlife, cultural resources, soils, land use, noise, recreation, and scenery. Cumulatively, Temperance Flat would contribute to the continued violation of water quality standards in the San Joaquin River. In addition, the dam will actually be a net loser in terms of hydroelectric power because it will flood two existing PG&E hydroelectric plants.
The Temperance Flat Dam would be 665 feet high (the second highest dam in California) with a storage capacity of more than 1.3 million acre feet of water. But the dam was modeled to yield only about 61,000-87,000 acre-feet of water per year on average, depending on how it is operated. That’s about 0.166% of California’s annual water supply. Because of the dams and reservoirs that already capture most of the flow of the San Joaquin River, the reservoir behind the Temperance Flat Dam would only store a small amount of water one year out of three (assuming it could get the water rights to do it). That last caveat may be important because a recent U.C. Davis study found that the state has over-allocated water rights in the San Joaquin River by an astounding 861%, which brings into question whether the Bureau could get the right capture enough water behind the Temperance Flat Dam to make it worthwhile.
Despite increased public concern about the collapse of groundwater aquifers in the southern Central Valley due to over-pumping by agribusiness and cities, the Temperance Flat Dam will do little to solve this problem. Given the scale of the overpumping, only meaningfully reducing the pumping can solve this problem. Feasible supply side fixes are not big enough. But even these solutions aren’t explored. In fact, there is no alternative in the DEIS that considers diverting rare flood flows from the valley segments of the San Joaquin River into Valley areas that would allow for groundwater recharge. Big “Ag” apparently prefers that the public pay for another river-destroying dam while they continue to pump groundwater to the permanent detriment of aquifers with little or no regulation by the state (although regulation is now coming).
BOR currently estimates that it would cost $2.6 billion to build Temperance Flat Dam (a departure from earlier higher estimates). Although the biggest boosters of the dam are southern Central Valley agribusiness (although others may be first in line for the water), the BOR claims that nearly half of the dam’s cost will be allocated to taxpayers who will receive “public benefits” in the form of increased salmon production in the San Joaquin River downstream of the dam. But the BOR’s own models of salmon improvements provided by the dam are a paltry .4% to 2.8% (again depending on how the dam is operated). Two of the BOR’s five dam operation scenarios are modeled to reduce salmon downstream in the river by -.6% to -13.1%! Why should taxpayers pay for an actual reduction in salmon in a river that we have been working to restore for more than 20 years?
How you can help the San Joaquin River & Gorge
FOR is actively working to oppose this threat to the San Joaquin River and Gorge. We are coordinating a wide-ranging group of citizens and organizations to oppose the construction of Temperance Flat dam and building grassroots support for protecting the San Joaquin River and its magnificent Gorge.
Resources & Documents
San Joaquin River Gorge Recreation Maps
San Joaquin River Gorge – Wild & Scenic (W&S) recommendation documents
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Draft W&S Suitability Study: Appendix J W&SR Suitability Rpt
BLM W&S Suitability Map: SJRG Suitable WSR Map
BLM W&S eligibility recommendation (ROD final): BLM SJRG WSR Recommendation
BLM Record of Decision on Eligibility (final – full): Bakersfield_ROD-ARMP
BLM W&S River Map: SJRG SRMA WSR Map
Federal Register excerpt – Record of Decision by BLM: FR ROD 2015-00597
Comments by Government Agencies (state & federal) on Temperance Flat Dam (TFD)
California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDF&W): CDF&W TFD dEIS cmts (Adobe OCR)
State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB): SWRCB 10-27-14 TFD dEIS cmts
SWRCB Aug 7, 2016 Letter on TFD Water Rights: SWRCB 8-7-14 ltr on TFD water rights (Adobe OCR)
US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA): EPA TFD DEIS cmts_30oct2014 (Adobe OCR)
National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS): NMFS TFD DEIS cmts (WP OCR)
BLM TFD DEIS Commnets October 23, 2014: TFD DEIS BLM Comments 10-23-2014
Comments by FOR & Other Environmental groups on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)
FOR-Sierra Club-Ca Sportfishing Protection Association-Clean Water Action: FOR-SC-CSPA-CWC USJRBSI dEIS (TFD) cmts
American Whitewater: AW 20141027 AW TFD DEIS cmts
American Rivers: AR Comments on DEIS for USJRBSI
California Sportfishing Protection Association (CSPA): CSPA TFD DEIS cmts 27Oct2014
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Et all: NRDC et al USJRBSI DEIS cmts 10-27-14
Trout Unlimited: Trout Unlimited TFD DEIS cmts
California Water Research: CWR SJRBSI (TFD) DEIS cmts
Brief Economics Review by Dr. Jeff Michaels, University of the Pacific
FOR Press Release on Dr. Michaels report: TFD_Econ_Media_Release_4-21-2014
Other Comments by FOR & Other Environmental Groups on the TFD Feasibility Report
FOR-NRDC-CSPA-The Bay Institute (TBI): NGO TFD Dft Feasibility Rpt cmts 4-21-2014