Largely ignorant of fish, water

The California Water Commission, in voting last week to provide only $171.3 million in funding for the Temperance Flat dam and reservoir, primarily because the dam and reservoir, they surmise, would do little or nothing to restore salmon on the San Joaquin River, have proven themselves largely ignorant of the fish they claim to be trying to protect, or the water they pretend to be trying to conserve.

Chinook salmon need cold, swift-running water in which to migrate from the sea and back again. The water commissioners apparently don’t know the water in the San Joaquin is neither cold nor swift-running. But it would be if the Temperance Flat Dam and reservoir were operating, because all that water would provide enough for swift-running environments, and would be deep and cold enough to be good salmon habitats.

Other states long ago have seen the light on this, and have built dams on their rivers running to the sea, such as the Columbia, the Snake and the Willamette, and fish-ladder systems that in most cases provide safe return to spawning waters for the fish.

Temperance Flat is a perfect site for a fishway, or fish-ladder system that would attract fish and protect them as fishways have done since they were first introduced in France in the 17th Century.

Not only are they common along American waterways, but also in England, Ireland, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and the continent of Europe.

They aren’t all perfect — but neither are self-styled fish biologists who have spent millions of the public’s dollars trying to establish Chinook runs on the slow-flowing, warm San Joaquin River.

Of course, Temperance Flat is needed for storage of water for agriculture and urban use as well as fish habitat. But that doesn’t seem to matter when the California Water Commissioners study the advantages of a dam.

They seem to be people schooled in not building dams for others, since the Hetch Hetchy project, built in the last century to capture water from Yosemite for the faucets and toilets of San Francisco is untouchable due to San Francisco politics (and a certain rational practicality), which means they have theirs and nobody else gets one.

Also, they are happy enough to steal water from the San Joaquin River system when it is politically suitable.

Backers of the Temperance Flat project are vowing to keep trying, and good for them.

The water commissioners also are pushing for more conservation, which is good. But you can’t conserve what you don’t have in the first place, and the next drought that comes around will prove that, as fish and crops alike will die of thirst.