Mario Santoyo (at the microphone) is executive director of the San Joaquin Water Infrastructure Authority, joined with Fresno city and county leaders, along with state and agriculture industry leaders to announce an effort to improve the score of the proposed Temperance Flat Reservoir project. Photo by David Castellon

published on February 27, 2018 - 2:30 PM
Written by David Castellon

Officials with the San Joaquin Water Infrastructure Authority said a low score given by state officials considering whether to partially fund Temperance Flat Dam came about because the information provided was too complicated.

On Tuesday, they said they’re trying to uncomplicate the matter by submitting to the California Water Commission about 1,500 pages of documents intended to clarify how they came up with their estimated public benefits ratio showing the financial return the state would receive for each dollar it might invest in the proposed $2.8 billion dam.

“A users manual is probably the best way to describe it,” Mario Santoyo, executive director of the authority, said of the documents sent to the California Water Commission, which will decide whether to fund a portion of the proposed dam project and, if so, by how much.

He was part of a press conference held this morning at Fresno City Hall in which Mayor Lee Brand led off by saying how vital being able to build Temperance Flat is to the city and the rest of the Valley.

“From the city’s perspective, it is crucial that we have enough water supplies to grow responsibly and to recharge our aquifers. Every community in our region has the same priority,” he told reporters. “That’s why this appeal is so important. It gives us the chance to answer all the state’s concerns about the project and address the scoring issues.”

The proposal is to build the dam on the backside of Millerton Reservoir in Friant, essentially creating a new reservoir upstream of the existing reservoir capable of holding more water in wet years than the single dam currently can hold and storing that extra water for dryer years.

The new dam is widely seen among farming interests and communities here as the best chance of having sufficient surface water stored when the Valley experiences drought conditions.

Temperance Flat is one of 11 major water-storage projects vying for portions of $2.7 in Proposition 1 bond funding earmarked for water storage. Officials with the San Joaquin Valley Water Authority — representing Fresno, Madera, Kings, Tulare and Merced counties, along with several Valley cities and tribal governments — has applied for more than $1 billion to cover the dam’s cost, with plans to pay for the rest by obtaining additional federal dollars and fees from the water districts and communities — including Fresno — that would be allocated portions of the water stored at Temperance Flat.

Before that happens, the Water Commission has to decide how to dole out the money, so the applicants are making their respective cases, which so far has included submitting public benefits ratios, which essentially estimate the return on investment for each dollar the state spends to fund a project.

“More specifically, it is the ratio of the monetized public benefits to the funding requested,” and after that is determined in May, funding also will be considered on the relative environmental value of each project, its resiliency and its implementation risk, according to the Water Commission’s website.

At the press conference, which included Fresno County and state officials, along with representatives of the agricultural industry, the speakers noted that the authority estimated the public benefits ratio for Temperance Flat at a $2.68 return for ever dollar the state would spend, which would come out to $2.68 billion if the state puts in $1 billion of Prop, 1 money.

Water Commission staff disregarded that number, citing problems in verifying some the information provided — including proposed water releases from Millerton Lake — and calculated only about a 10-cent benefit for every state dollar spent.

Water authority officials noted that the applicants for all 11 proposed projects scored unexpectedly low on their public benefit ratio, but it’s important to clarify things and get an accurate number, as the ratio will count about 30 percent on each project’s score for funding consideration.

“What happened is, we did all our calculations,” Santoyo said. “We submitted that application to the reviewers, the reviewers hit the wall in terms or not being able to verify or determine the flows, because of the complexity of our computer modeling. If they could not verify the flows, they could not award us any values in terms of public benefits, because they are directly related to the flows.

“That’s why we ended up with a low score — almost zero,” he said, adding, “That was the same case the other applicants ran into.”

The authority appealed the Water Commission staff’s estimate, and Santoyo said the 1,500 pages of new information is intended to will help them “connect the dots” and hopefully lead them to see the state would get a much larger return for its investment in Temperance Flat.

It the new information isn’t sufficient, representatives of the authority will be able to argue their case directly to the Water Commission members in April.

“But the most important date is in July,” Santoyo said, as that is when the commission will decide which projects to fund and, if so, by how much. “So, there is really a short window between now and then.”

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