The water storage at San Luis Reservoir (shown above in March 2016, mid-drought) jumped from just 10 percent of capacity in August to 100 percent last month. But none of the $7.5 billion from the Proposition 1 Water Bond passed by voters in 2014 has been spent to increase water storage by raising the height of the dam.
According to California Department of Water officials interviewed by Fresno’s ABC affiliate, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation drastically cut water deliveries to San Luis Reservoir last year, so that salmon might benefit from continual cold water releases from Shasta Dam that flowed down the Sacramento River, through the Delta and out to sea,
After the reservoir hit its lowest level since 1990 last summer, pumping by the California Department of Water Resources has caused its water level to rise 198 feet. Today, the reservoir — for the first time in the six-year drought — has been at 100 percent of capacity since mid-February.
The 382 foot earthen San Luis Reservoir is the largest off-stream reservoir in the United States, which means that its water supply is completely artificial. For the California State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project to move Northern California water to the south, runoff water is pumped 65 miles from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta through the California Aqueduct and Delta-Mendota Canal to the San Luis Reservoir.
The 2.5 million acre-foot reservoir that began construction in 1961 acts as a seasonal mid-point storage facility for water that will eventually be sent south to the 18.75 million people that live in the Los Angeles Basin that extends from Ventura County in the west to San Bernardino County and Riverside County in the east, with Los Angeles County in the center and Orange County to the southeast.
San Luis Dam also is the primary reason that the San Joaquin Valley’s 570,000 acres of farmland produce about $42 billion in agricultural products each year. Another 995,000 acre feet of water also flows south through the East Branch of the California Aqueduct to the Inland Empire and on south to San Diego.
Despite 70 percent growth in the population of California, there has been no new above ground water storage built in the last 40 years. California voters passed the Proposition 1 Water Bond, officially known as the “Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014,” ostensibly to create more infrastructure to move more water.
Although the initiative had bipartisan support from Democrats and Republicans, Breitbart News found at the time that a “close look at the language in the proposition reveals that the initiative is another legislative ‘bait and switch’ that will not complete a single major water storage or delivery system.”
According to Bruce Colbert, Executive Director of the Property Owners Association of Riverside County, the portion of the Proposition 1 bond that was earmarked for “public benefit” that could include dams, reservoirs, and groundwater storage was limited to $2.7 billion. But the definition of “public benefit” was defined as ecosystem improvements, water quality, flood control, or recreation.
The language of the proposition also limits the “public benefit” cost share of a water storage project to “not exceed 50 percent of the total costs” of the project. The language further states that ecosystem improvements must comprise at least 50 percent of the total public benefits of a project. In the final analysis, the Water Bond only funds a quarter of the cost to construct any above or below ground water storage. Finishing any project requires higher taxes or user fees to fund 75 percent of any water storage project’s costs.
California and federal water officials indicated before the bond vote that they were studying five major water storage reservoir locations, including raising the dam level at San Luis Reservoir.
But 2.5 years later, with the State of California facing a 100-year-rain event, no Prop 1 money has been spent on increasing water storage at San Luis Reservoir.