Water Storage is Key to Region’s Future

J. Paul Hendrix
J. Paul Hendrix

Tulare Irrigation District has proposed a new reservoir at McKay Point, near Lemon Cove and Woodlake, to provide new water storage, flood control and more efficient distribution of water for agriculture.

The McKay Point project, proposed to be located north of the separation of the Kaweah and St. Johns rivers, is a joint venture of property owners Tulare Irrigation District (TID), the Consolidated Peoples Ditch Company and the Visalia & Kaweah Water Company. The reservoir is expected to take about 120 acres of the jointly owned 500 acres.

These three entities are responsible for making short- and long-term water-management decisions that directly impact our region’s number one industry: agriculture.

TID, the lead agency, has a long history of water stewardship, having been organized in 1889. Today, TID operates and maintains 330 miles of canal and about 30 miles of pipeline, along with 1,250 acres of groundwater recharge/regulation basins.

The need for additional water storage is a statewide issue, and the idea of a reservoir at McKay Point has been under discussion for several years. The hold-up has been financial, and a partnership with CEMEX was the missing piece.

CEMEX, an aggregates and building materials company, will excavate the reservoir site, process and sell the removed materials. The property owners will then receive a royalty on the sale of materials, which provides revenue that the owners anticipate will make the estimated $12 million reservoir construction project financially feasible. About half of the cost is for cut-off walls to minimize groundwater and surface water intrusion into the reservoir.

The project is now in the midst of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process, which includes scoping meetings that allow residents and interested agencies to voice questions and concerns about potential environmental effects.

TID held three scoping meetings in February regarding the proposed reservoir. Comments received were used to finalize the list of items to be studied for their potential environmental impact. The EIR will disclose significant environmental impacts and related mitigation measures. The EIR will present project alternatives, including a “no-project” alternative, designed to eliminate and/or reduce the impacts.

It is important to note that the EIR is not a process of determining the merits of a project. It is a disclosure document that presents the results of good science and thorough analyses to ensure that we study environmental impacts as completely as possible. A considerable part of the EIR is devoted to local groundwater evaluations, given the reservoir’s location in an area exhibiting shallow groundwater conditions. This fall, the draft EIR will be circulated for public review and comment, and another series of public meetings will be held.

The key components of the project are:

  • More efficient capture and distribution of water for agricultural use. The new reservoir, and its water control features, will allow for water to be captured and more efficiently distributed downstream for agricultural use, when farmers need it, and when they would otherwise pump groundwater. Currently, during times of flood release from Terminus Dam, water not immediately needed is diverted to groundwater recharge basins or discharged to the historic Tulare Lake Bed. The reservoir will allow for increased upstream storage of this water.
  • Flood control. During wet years, water will be diverted into the reservoir, thereby lessening the risk of water backing up into the streets of downtown Visalia and elsewhere. Water would be returned to the Lower Kaweah and the St. Johns rivers when it is safe and beneficial to do so.
  • Power generation. The hydroelectric generators at the Terminus Dam outlets at Lake Kaweah will be able to produce more power, especially during times of peak demand, once the McKay Point reservoir is available. The resulting “green” power may provide revenue to support the maintenance of the reservoir and other projects as needed to ensure continued delivery of water to support agriculture.
  • More water for local use. During wet years, floodwater from the Kaweah River, Dry Creek and Yokohl Creek typically floods farmland and/or is diverted to the Friant-Kern Canal for disposal in the Kern River near Bakersfield. The McKay Point Reservoir will capture some of this floodwater and hold it until it can be safely released back into the Kaweah and St. Johns rivers for downstream use or for groundwater recharge, which benefits the region.

Public hearing dates on the Draft EIR in the fall will be announced and posted on the McKay Point Reservoir project website, www.mckaypoint.com. For information, contact Paul Hendrix or Aaron Fukuda, Tulare Irrigation District, 686-3425; James Silva, Consolidated Peoples Ditch Co., 747-1177; or Richard Moss, Provost & Pritchard, 636-1166.

J. Paul Hendrix is the general manager of Tulare Irrigation District.

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