PATTERSON - A proposal to built a water storage reservoir in the hills west of Patterson moved forward last Wednesday morning when the Del Puerto Water District Board of Directors certified a final Environmental Impact Report on the controversial project.

The Del Puerto district and San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority are partnering on the proposal to build an off-stream reservoir in Del Puerto Canyon with a capacity of 82,000 acre-feet.

Anthea Hansen, general manager of the Del Puerto district, said the reservoir would provide critical capacity that can store water in wetter years for use in dry years, increasing both the availability and reliability of water supplies.

In addition to benefiting agriculture, a project website states, the reservoir would also provide water for refuges, provide flood control on Del Puerto Creek and boost local groundwater recharge.

She said at last week’s board meeting that work on the EIR has been ongoing for more than 20 months.

“There are volumes of data and documentation,” Hansen commented. “The project benefits far outweigh the significant and unavoidable impacts, of which I will note there were only six out of the multitude of impacts that were thoroughly studied.”

Newman almond grower Jim Jasper, who sits on the Del Puerto board, said the project is of significant importance to the south-of-the-delta ag community.

“Eighty thousand acre-feet is not a lot, but when you don’t have any water available, as we didn’t during the drought, it is pretty valuable,” Jasper told Mattos Newspapers. “As costly as this will be, it will be extremely valuable to a pretty large area.”

Jasper said he believes the environmental study fully addressed the issues and concerns surrounding  the project, but nonetheless expects litigation to be filed challenging the reservoir.

Still, Jasper commented, “I can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be (built). It is either do projects like this or let our whole area dry up and take it back to what it was before water was being brought in.”

A number of concerns were voiced by speakers calling in to the Zoom meeting at which the EIR was approved.

Attorney Daniel Garrett-Steinman, speaking on behalf of a number of environmental organizations, contended that new information was added after the initial draft EIR was released and failed to provide information required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Steinman said the EIR did not address issues such as downstream impacts, among others. He called for the EIR to be recirculated for additional comments.

Jim Miller, development manager for Diablo Grande, said the community’s new owners may add up to 4,000 new homes over the next 20 years. The EIR, he said, failed to fully address the cumulative impacts of the project. The EIR traffic study projected 194 new homes to be built in Diablo Grande by 2040.

“Diablo Grande Parkway is our entry. We have conditions of approval that require us widening by a certain unit count,” Miller explained. “Rerouting of Del Puerto Canyon Road onto Diablo Grande Parkway may trigger traffic improvement (requirements) sooner than we were anticipating.”

Elias Funez, a resident of Patterson and Grass Valley, said the canyon is a unique area with significant historical and cultural resources. The canyon has also been a recreational haven for generations, Funez said, but the EIR does not address loss of recreational uses.

He suggested moving the project to other West Side locations where larger reservoirs could be constructed in order to provide the maximum benefits.

Hansen, the Del Puerto Water District manager, previously told Mattos Newspapers that while certification of the EIR is a significant milestone much work remains before the project can become a reality.

Nearly two dozen approvals are required from a host of federal, state and local authorities, she explained.

Hansen estimated the cost of the project at $900 million to $1 billion dollars. The cost, she said, will be borne by beneficiaries of the project - although the federal Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act may provide a cost share of up to 25 percent of the project.

Hansen said project proponents must complete the design and engineering plans, establish a finance plan and navigate a maze of required approvals.

The proposed reservoir will be created by construction of a main dam and three saddle dams. The reservoir surface area would be about 800 acres.

Construction could begin in two years and take up to six years to complete.

Despite the opposition and concerns voiced, Hansen previously commented, she believes the reservoir is “truly a good project that will have many benefits.”

The action taken by the board last week certifies the EIR, adopts environmental findings and a statement of overriding considerations, adopts a mitigation monitoring and reporting program and gives approval for the Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir Project.