These past few years have shown us just how bad California’s water situation can be when the rain doesn’t fall in the Valley and the snow doesn’t accumulate in the mountains.
A lack of precipitation in the Central Valley means reduced water allocations for farmers and a greater demand on groundwater supplies. The fallout is a sluggish economy, a loss of jobs and an increased number of dry wells.
Face it – California has pretty severe weather cycles.
We might go through years of crippling drought until the pendulum swings the other way and we get hit with relentless floods during an El Niño season. It’s hard to achieve a perfect balance.
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The solution to this challenge is clear: more water storage.
Though California’s population has exploded in recent years, our state continues to rely on water storage projects that are more than 60 years old. While many of these surface-water projects continue to provide a significant supply, it’s time we look to the future and build more infrastructure.
The federal Central Valley Project’s Friant Division is a great example of what can be accomplished when we place an emphasis on addressing the Valley’s water needs. Designed in the 1920s and built in the 1940s, the Friant system significantly reduced groundwater overuse and stabilized the eastside aquifer by allowing for groundwater recharge. This project is a major reason why agriculture has been able to thrive in the Valley.
The project is anchored by two elements: Friant Dam, which creates Millerton Lake. While these features have served us well over the years, they’re too small to handle the natural runoff from the San Joaquin River without downstream flood releases. The capacity of Millerton Lake is approximately 520,500 acre-feet, while the normal yearly natural runoff along the San Joaquin River is approximately 1.8 million acre-feet.
Instead of watering crops or recharging groundwater supplies, the extra runoff ends up in the ocean.
In order for us to capture this overflow, we need new above-ground water storage facilities. One identified project – Temperance Flat Reservoir – would more than double water storage along the San Joaquin River and provide much-needed relief to downstream communities.
It’s important to remember, water storage projects not only provide irrigation water to farmers, they also allow opportunity for flood protection, groundwater recharge, reduced subsidence, enhanced drinking water supplies, energy production, recreational opportunities and other useful benefits.
Further, with new groundwater standards implemented by the state under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, we need projects like this in order to provide additional recharge and reduce the reliance on groundwater supplies.
The alternatives to building more water storage are increased demand on natural aquifers, less water availability, more water releases to the ocean and more severe impacts from drought.
That’s not our vision for the future of the San Joaquin Valley. What we need are water infrastructure upgrades that keep up with demand.
If we’re able to accomplish this, California will continue to grow in the right direction.
Jerry O’Banion is the District 5 Merced County supervisor and primary Merced County member on the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority; John Pedrozo is the District 1 supervisor and the alternate to the authority.