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Wet year time to discuss prospect for new reservoirs

Highway closures due to heavy snow; brim full city flood control basins and flooded intersections are not what most people would call good news. However, it is wonderful news because it has not happened in awhile.

About the time Central Valley newspapers began heralding another dry winter after a promising an early start of heavy fall rains and snow, the sky opened up over California and dropped another several feet of new snow in the high country in early February. The federal water agencies had already promised 50 percent of contracted water for agriculture before the last storm. This was an increase of 25 percent from early fall estimates. No one expects to get 100 percent, but better than 50 looks more likely now.

There are six to eight weeks of winter yet to go before the final water tab can be calculated, but this season is already looking like it could be one of those years when the state's water purveyors will have to release tons of water down rivers to handle a big snow pack. Water that will be lost for anyone's benefit — environmentalists, cities or farmers.

It could be another year when the crashing water awakens the notion of new water storage in California.

One that has resurfaced makes sense is Temperance Flat Dam just above Millerton Lake north of Fresno on the San Joaquin River. A dam across a steep, narrow rocky canyon upstream from Millerton could store well over 1 million acre feet of water. Millerton at capacity holds just over 500,000 acre feet.

Water from Temperance Flat could be used for cities and agriculture and just as importantly it could bring renewed life to the San Joaquin River by making more water available for restoration.

A Fresno, Calif., environmentalist was quoted in a story in the local newspaper as saying he would not support Temperance Flat until he got more water released from Millerton for river restoration. Brilliant strategy — stop everything rather than try to negotiate a solution to generate provide more water for the river he professes to want to protect.

Freshman Congressman Devin Nunes from Tulare, Calif., introduced legislation to study the feasibility of Temperance Flat.

It makes sense for many reasons. One is that it basically expands an existing reservoir. There should not be any overwhelming environmental issues blocking it because the land it would inundate is basically foothill grazing land.

Temperance Flat water will not be cheap. Who pays for it is a big question. Farmers could not pay the full cost of the water, even over time. Cities and counties would have to pay a big share of any new California water development project.

Regardless, it is a topic that should be put back on the front burner and the heat turned up this year. This will likely be a year when millions of gallons of water will go needlessly down streams and rivers onto the Pacific.

This could be the year when the visual arguments are powerful to seriously begin looking at realistic water project for a state that is rapidly running out of enough water to go around for every segment of society.

Thunderous, cascading spillways could speak volumes to the urgency of new California water development.

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