WILL PARRISH: Feds May Use Eminent Domain to Build California Dam




Early last year, four US Bureau of Reclamation officials came to Anita Lodge’s seven-acre property deep in the San Joaquin River gorge, 33 miles northeast of Fresno. They explained in careful detail the legal process by which the federal government forces people to abandon their homes to make way for new infrastructure. A childhood picture of Lodge’s mother, who is buried on the land, loomed over the kitchen table where Lodge served her guests freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

Lodge’s property would drown under three hundred feet of water if the state and federal governments construct Temperance Flat Dam, a roughly $3.3 billion undertaking sought for several decades by San Joaquin Valley agribusinesses, real estate developers, and Central Valley politicians. The 665-foot-high dam, which would be the fifth tallest in the nation, is one of several proposed water infrastructure projects that have gained popularity during the state’s epic four-year drought.

But Lodge, 59, has no interest in leaving, nor do other family members who reside just down the road. Seven generations of the Lodge and Woody families have lived on their riverfront spread, which is part of a much larger homestead that Lodge’s great, great grandparents acquired in the mid-19th century — most of which now resides in a federal wildlife reserve. For several summers in the 1950s, while Lodge’s father was building the house where she now lives, she camped out under the branches of a sprawling fig tree, listening to the roar of the river as raccoons nibbled on figs at the foot of her bed.

Whenever the government removes someone from a home, they are required to provide one of equal market value. But Lodge rejects the idea.

“How do you put a price tag on something like this?” she asked during a recent interview. “The family history is something you can’t replace.”

Temperance Flat is one of four potential new dams or dam expansions that I profiled in the October 21 AVA feature story “Damning California’s Future.” Besides the Lodge and Woody families, those who would be uprooted by thesenew dam projects include indigenous people who of course have the deepest ancestry in the state, like the Winnemem Wintu Tribe members, who lost roughly 90 percent of their land base when Shasta Lake near Redding was completed in the 1940s, and who would lose many of their remaining ancestral sites if Shasta Dam is raised. [The 2015 Congressional Drought bill fizzled out so maybe just remove the end of the sentence.]

But Temperance Flat Dam is now also the subject of an interdepartmental battle within the US Department of Interior. The US Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which administers a 1,000-acre reserve surrounding Lodge’s property, proposed last year to make a six-mile stretch of the San Joaquin River part of the US Wild & Scenic Rivers system, which would make it off-limits to dam development.

Lodge is now one of the most vocal champions of the BLM proposal. “You’re not going to find this foothill watershed area that’s as pristine and unspoiled anywhere else in the state of California,” she says. “It’s just not there.”

The BLM’s proposal, and the possible fate of Temperance Flat Dam, is now in the hands of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Ronald Stork, river policy advocate for the environmental group, Friends of the River, is urging dam opponents to contact Jewell and ask her to support the Wild & Scenic Rivers designation, but he cautions that “the Bureau of Reclamation is accustomed to winning these kinds of battles.”

Over the years, environmentalists and other advocates have challenged the logic behind the dams proposed in California. Temperance Flat, in particular, has been “long regarded as one of the most crazy dam ideas in California,” Stork noted. That’s because the 1.26 million acre-foot reservoir that would fill behind the dam would only expand the federal government’s capacity to deliver water by roughly 70,000 acre-feet in an average year, equivalent to 1 percent of its existing annual deliveries.

The reason is straightforward: Temperance Flat would be constructed just 6.8 miles upstream of Friant Dam, partially inside the back-end of 520,000 acre-foot Millerton Lake, which already impounds much of the Upper San Joaquin River’s available water supply. As a result, even though Temperance Flat would store lots of water, it would not add much to the state’s overall ability to ship water and would only be used to fulfill existing water rights contracts.

Dam proponents argue that Temperance Flat’s water would nonetheless be valuable in the driest parts of the year and in drought years, when California’s existing reservoirs have sported “bathtub rings” where water once was.

But Stork notes that, in exchange for a relative pittance of water, the cost of Temperance Flat would single-handedly double the debt of California’s largest water system, the Central Valley Project, even as water recycling projects would yield far more water at the same price.

Moreover, the San Joaquin River has already sustained considerable harm from existing dams. Historically, the river was home to the southernmost salmon runs on the Pacific Coast of North America, with an annual chinook salmon migration estimated at 200,000 to 500,000. But the bureau blocked the fish’s migration with the construction of Friant Dam in 1949. At the same time, a 60-mile stretch of the river roughly running from Madera to Merced dried up except in high water years — a consequence of so many dams and diversions.

And many opponents of Temperance Flat assert that the project’s main function would be to provide an exorbitant taxpayer subsidy to San Joaquin Valley agribusinesses and developers, who continually advocate for a greater share of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River drainage — the source of about two-thirds of California’s developed water supply.

In late October, a spokesperson for the US Bureau of Reclamation wrote to the Express requesting a correction of my article’s characterization that the bureau’s lawyers had threatened Anita Lodge with eminent domain. But in a subsequent interview, Public Relations Officer Shane Hunt acknowledged that his agency does acquire property through eminent domain if landowners refuse to sell. “We have a general process where if a project moves forward, we will try to negotiate with a landowner over several phases,” he said. “After following those several steps, it’s possible you could end up in eminent domain proceedings.”

Lodge and the other San Joaquin gorge property owners are only some of the most recent state residents to have the federal government’s property acquisition specialists approach them as California readies for new dams. “Within the last decade, we’ve looked into undertaking a property acquisition process related to a dam project in Northern California,” Hunt acknowledged, although he declined to say what that dam project was or where these properties are located. Roughly ten years ago, the bureau relocated several property owners in the area that would have been flooded by the Auburn Dam on the Feather River, a project that was scuttled after it proved to be too geologically unstable to support a dam.

When I visited Lodge’s home in early December, she was in the midst of planting daffodils on her mom’s grave site. Ironically, her 97-year-old uncle is a retired engineer who had a managerial role in several Army Corps of Engineers dam projects in the Pacific Northwest. “My mom never believed Temperance Flat could happen, because her brother always assured her it made absolutely no sense,” she said.

One Comment

I have sent to Will Parish numerous documents showing how Governor Jerry Brown has already passed legislation to dam up the whole damn state because PG & E needs Hydro electricity to power the Google/Apple driverless cars in our very near future (which Obomball just proposed a $10 bbl tax to support!).

The cost to taxpayers is estimated by his office to be between $400-500 BILLION dollars over the next two to three decades. This is just the first dam on “The Agenda”

Why Mr. Parish does not cite these facts that were presented to him by email almost one year ago is not known.
California’s Big Water Plans; The End of Private Water Rights?
From the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 10/24/14:
‘California’s growing population and dwindling water require up to $500 billion in additional investment in water in coming decades, and new state fees for water users could be one way to pay for it’, a water plan released Thursday by the state’s top water officials said.
‘Currently, governments spend about $20 billion annually on California’s water supply, or $200 billion over 10 years’, said Kamyar Guivetchi, head of integrated water management for the Department of Water Resources.”
‘State officials are calling for another $500 billion in coming decades. That includes $100 billion in flood-control projects and $400 billion to fund a wide range of projects proposed by different regions of the state’, Guivetchi said.
The plan looks as far ahead as 2050, spanning a period when California will be dealing with everything from shrinking snowpack, rising seas and encroaching salinity in waterways to more frequent droughts under climate change.
The plan envisions growing cities increasingly taking more water, farmers using less, and water costing more in general. ‘It shouldn’t be a surprise’, Cowin said, that ‘water is going to cost more for Californians in the future.’
Additionally, Plans are to take away private water well rights beginning in 2017.
In addition, a month before that announcement, Governor Brown also signed into law the “Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014”:

This three-bill state legislation, (AB 1739 (Dickinson), SB 1168 (Pavley) and SB 1319 (Pavley), requires the formation of new local groundwater sustainability agencies responsible for establishing long-term locally-based groundwater management plans and ultimately protecting groundwater quality within their jurisdictions.

‘A central feature of these bills is the recognition that groundwater management in California is best accomplished locally. Local agencies will now have the power to assess the conditions of their local water basins and take necessary steps to bring those basins in a state chronic long-term overdraft into balance,’ the governor said in his official signing message.

The new groundwater legislation also requires local water agencies to replenish underground aquifers that have been depleted. Farmers will likely have to meter their wells, and some may be forced to cease or dramatically reduce pumping, according to the new bills.

If local water agencies fail to comply with the new rules, state water officials will have the power to do whatever is necessary to enforce the legislation. ‘The cost of doing nothing is the biggest economic gamble,’ State Senator Fran Pavley said. ‘Thousands of homes and small farms cannot keep pace with the race to drill deeper and deeper wells.’

‘We have to learn to manage wisely water, energy, land and our investments,’ said Gov. Brown this morning. ‘That’s why this is important.’ (Source)

Also, according to the new groundwater law:
• By 2017, groundwater management agencies must be created across California.
• By 2020, groundwater basins that are “overdrafted” (meaning more water is being pumped than replenished) must have “sustainability plans.”
• By 2022, all other basins must have such plans.
• By 2040, all “high and medium priority” basins must achieve sustainability

According to the above bill legislation, smart meters will be required on all private water wells through newly created local groundwater agencies. If the local agencies do not provide adequate enforcement, the state is declaring that they will intervene.

Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSA) will be formed in these priority basins and will be tasked with implementing the provisions of the Act. The GSAs are given broad authority to (1) investigate and adopt management plans, (2) require registration of wells and monitoring/annual reporting of extractions, (3) impose extraction fees, (4) impose well spacing requirements, and (5) even limit extraction.

Note, however, that any domestic user that pumps less than two acre feet of water per year (or less than 652,000 gallons) is considered a “de minimis extractor” and will be exempt from reporting requirements. To put this exemption in perspective, the average household uses 400 gallons per day or 146,000 gallons per year. Thus, one would have to use over four times that average amount to be subject to the Act’s reporting requirements.