Proposed Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir

What's at stake?

Friant irrigators are fearful the Exchange Contractors could hoard water in Del Puerto in wet years and still call on Friant water during dry years.

A group of water users on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley is continuing its unlikely quest to stop a proposed new dam on the west side of the valley.

Back in October 2022, a Stanislaus County Superior Court judge dismissed a host of environmental challenges against the project as well as concerns brought by the Friant Water Supply Protection Association.

On July 24, the Friant group filed an appeal in the Fifth District Court of Appeals.

It’s not that the Friant group wouldn’t like to see more water storage, it would. But the group is concerned with how that stored water will be counted and how that accounting could affect Friant, according to the appeal.

The proposed Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir would allow water users that are part of the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractor Authority to store up to 84,000-acre feet in the hills above Patterson, west of Interstate 5.

Exchange Contractors receive water from the federal Central Valley Project, which also supplies Friant irrigators.

The problem is that in dry years, the Bureau of Reclamation has opted at least twice to cut Friant’s supplies to zero in order to fulfill its obligations to the Exchange Contractors.

Friant irrigators are fearful the Exchange Contractors could hoard water in Del Puerto in wet years and still call on Friant water during dry years.

Though a representative for the Exchange Contractors has said previously  that the dam would not impact any other water users, the Friant group would like that spelled out in the project’s environmental documents.

Any evaluation of how Central Valley Project water will be used in the Del Puerto project must include “…an evaluation of how that change would affect other water users,” Friant’s appeal states. “Friant members are among the other water users who could be affected by the Project…”

Chris White, executive director of the Exchange Contractors’ authority, previously told SJV Water that the water for Del Puerto would come from an existing transfer program that has already been scrutinized for potential impacts to other water users.

Under its current contract, the Exchange Contractors have the ability to put their water into groundwater storage. White said the water for Del Puerto would come from conservation, groundwater substitution or fallowing farmland.

That’s why there wouldn’t be any impact on others, he said.

The Friant group’s lawsuit and appeal notes the Bureau of Reclamation contract with Exchange Contractors specifically does not include storage. So, Del Puerto would necessarily take water out of the system and those impacts must be studied and mitigated in the project’s environmental documents, according to the appeal.

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Lois is the founder, CEO, and editor-in-chief of SJV Water, an independent nonprofit news organization covering water in California's San Joaquin Valley.

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