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Latest News in Friant, CA

The forgotten underwater town at the bottom of Millerton Lake

FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Millerton Lake has a presence in both Fresno County and Madera County, just north of the town of Friant. But those new to the area may not know that underneath the waters of Millerton Lake was the original town of Millerton.According to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Millerton Lake was created following the co...

FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Millerton Lake has a presence in both Fresno County and Madera County, just north of the town of Friant. But those new to the area may not know that underneath the waters of Millerton Lake was the original town of Millerton.

According to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Millerton Lake was created following the construction of the Friant Dam. But to create the lake, the town underneath had to be flooded.

State-provided documents show that the town of Millerton was originally founded in 1852, then known as Rootville. The California gold rush brought miners into the area and the town continued to do well until the railroad reached what is now Fresno.

Other state-provided documents detail what led to the residents to leave the town of Millerton. A flood on Christmas Eve 1867 struck the town when landslides that had previously blocked the flow of water upriver broke away – sending a cascade of water down into the town. The strong flowing water is said to have destroyed everything in its path.

Fortunately, no lives were lost in the incident. Records show that the people of Millerton had been warned ahead of time about the impending danger and had taken some of their belongings to higher ground. The value of the mine that started the town was not worth as much anymore – leaving little money to rebuild the town following the water damage.

An election in 1874 established that the county offices should be moved – and then the population also voted to move everything from Millerton to Fresno station. The town’s courthouse was moved as well and eventually rebuilt in its current location in 1966.

Work on what we now know as Friant Dam began in the late 1930s, and by the mid-1940s Millerton Lake had inundated the town below. In 1957, Millerton Lake State Recreation Area was established as a part of the State Park system.

Millerton isn’t the only California town whose remnants are sitting at the bottom of a lake. Under Lexington Reservoir in the Bay Area, there used to be two towns called Lexington and Alma, writes SFGate.

Several Gold Rush towns were also flooded by the creation of Folsom Lake near Sacramento. One of them became exposed last year when drought caused water levels to drop particularly low.

In praise of atmospheric rivers: April storms boost mid-state storage - offer relief for Friant contractors | John Lindt

Unlike much of the state, reservoirs in the middle of California around Sacramento are near 100% capacity this month, despite California’s extreme drought.Case in point is the million-acre Folsom Reservoir, that thanks to a few soaking storms went from 550,000AF in late March to 864,000AF by mid-May. That is 88% capacity. Last year at this time Folsom held just 364,000AF.This spring’s boost was based on a couple of Atmospheric River (AR) storms that blew into the state targeting the Tahoe area in a limited band rang...

Unlike much of the state, reservoirs in the middle of California around Sacramento are near 100% capacity this month, despite California’s extreme drought.

Case in point is the million-acre Folsom Reservoir, that thanks to a few soaking storms went from 550,000AF in late March to 864,000AF by mid-May. That is 88% capacity. Last year at this time Folsom held just 364,000AF.

This spring’s boost was based on a couple of Atmospheric River (AR) storms that blew into the state targeting the Tahoe area in a limited band ranging from the Feather River north of Sacramento to the Stanislaus just north of Modesto. An AR is a narrow corridor of concentrated moisture in the atmosphere - in our case coming off the Pacific.

The ribbonlike storms did not help storage to the north at giant Shasta reservoir (40% of capacity today) or south of Modesto at dams like Pine Flat (62% capacity) near Fresno. Luckily the Central Valley Project (CVP), designed in 1933, can store and move water from 20 dams from north to south along the 400-mile conveyance system.

Boaters who frequent Folsom Lake are happy this year. Drew Lessard - area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation stated to local media, “Things were looking pretty bleak on the American River and for Folsom up until April, when we ended up having an above-average precipitation month.”

Turns out the cold storms will benefit more than weekend warriors around Sacramento. Since the Central Valley Project is tied together under Bureau of Reclamation management, farms in Tulare and Kern counties will see benefits for their water supply this summer. It's just how the CVP system is supposed to work.

“Some spots got 9 inches in 24 hours along the American River,” says Tulare County water expert Dennis Keller, a Friant Water consulting engineer. The additional supply has helped the Bureau make a call this month that will allow Friant Water Authority to halt releases down the San Joaquin River that benefit the exchange contractors, ending the draining of the snowpack-fed supply behind Friant Dam.

This 150 mile canal boosted the farm economy along the east side of the Valley that otherwise faced a bleak future without the reclamation project that altered the course of rivers.

But to keep the farmers along the San Joaquin River north of Fresno whole, the Bureau promised to deliver water from north of the Delta to the so-called "exchange contractors" who gave up their San Joaquin River supply in exchange for water from the Bureau typically delivered over the course of the summer from Shasta.

But in some years there isn't enough water in the Bureau’s CVP system to do a 100% exchange and there have been times, like 2014, that the Friant-Kern Canal has carried zero supply from the snowpack in Friant's own backyard due to a Bureau allocation decision. That 2014 decision was supported by a court ruling this month.

But this water year the Bureau has more latitude.

“The Folsom supply should firm up our already declared 15% supply,” says Keller, and possibly increase it so the region’s farms and cities can count on at least 120,000 acre feet for their water supply and irrigation plans this hot summer. Some 15,000 farms south of Fresno can exhale just a little.

Friant contractors: Feds not giving “fair share” of water to all

In California’s byzantine water world, some water districts are, apparently, more equal than others, to paraphrase George Orwell.That appears to be the case in the federally operated Central Valley Project, particularly when it comes to two main sets of water districts: the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors and the Friant Contractors.On Feb. 27, the Bureau of Reclamation, which determines annual water allocations for those contractors, announced it would deliver only 15 percent of Friant members’ contracted amo...

In California’s byzantine water world, some water districts are, apparently, more equal than others, to paraphrase George Orwell.

That appears to be the case in the federally operated Central Valley Project, particularly when it comes to two main sets of water districts: the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors and the Friant Contractors.

On Feb. 27, the Bureau of Reclamation, which determines annual water allocations for those contractors, announced it would deliver only 15 percent of Friant members’ contracted amounts even though the snowpack in that watershed appears to be able to support at least 40 percent of Friant contracts, according to Friant managers.

That’s not fair, Friant contractors complained.

Maybe not, but the bureau has a hard obligation to deliver up to 650,000 acre-feet to the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Because of dry statewide conditions and other forces potentially impeding water exports from the delta, the bureau wants to hold on to some of that Friant snowpack in case it's needed for the exchange contractors.

“The decisions being made in real time are not good for Friant,” said Fergus Morrissey, general manager of Orange Cove Irrigation District, a Friant contractor. “It’s not going to be pretty, if we don’t get a lot more precipitation.”

The San Joaquin River coming out of Millerton Lake has more than three times the amount of water this year compared to this same time last year, according to the California Nevada River Forecast Center. But Friant contractors received a 20 percent allocation last year, 5 percent more than this year’s.

“It appears that more water is available in the watershed,” said Eric R. Quinley, general manager of Delano-Earlimart Irrigation District. “Reclamation may be holding water in anticipation of the need for additional supplies for the exchange contractors.”

Delano-Earlimart is one of several Friant contractors in Kern County, including Arvin-Edison Water Storage District, Kern Tulare Water District and Shafter-Wasco Irrigation District.

The reason goes back to the beginning of the Central Valley Project. When the federal government built the CVP in the 1930s, it took San Joaquin River water from existing water users and moved it to Friant contractors in the southern part of the valley. In “exchange,” the federal government promised the original river users it would deliver water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. That promise carries on today and the exchange contractors have a strong entitlement to water based on their government contract.

The exchange contractors receive up to 840,000 acre-feet in normal years and up to 650,000 acre-feet in dry years, according to their contract.

“Given the uncertainties with our ability to move water through the delta this year, in order to meet our exchange contract requirements we may need to support that contractual obligation to the exchange contractors with deliveries from the Friant system,” said Michael Jackson, area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation’s south central California area office.

Even though there is more water in the watershed now, the bureau still had more certainty last year that it could deliver water to the exchange contractors, hence the higher 2021 allocation for Friant, said Jackson.

The Friant Water Authority issued a statement on Feb. 23 in response to the bureau’s allocation decisions. The statement estimates that about 240,000 acre-feet of additional water exists in the upper San Joaquin Watershed that could still be allocated. That’s only if the bureau wasn’t holding water for the exchange contractors.

That additional water would bump Friant’s allocation up to at least 40 percent.

The bureau has given water from Millerton to the exchange contractors before. And that decision resulted in a whirlwind of agencies mobilizing against the federal government.

In 2014, the Bureau took water from Millerton for the exchange contractors. The city of Fresno and 17 water agencies sued the bureau for $350 million for the estimated value of the water and water rights. That lawsuit is still ongoing.

Jesse Vad reports for SJV Water, a nonprofit, independent online news publication dedicated to covering water issues in the San Joaquin Valley. Lois Henry, SJV Water’s CEO and editor, can be reached at lois.henry@sjvwater.org. The website is sjvwater.org.

Friant water officials dismayed over Federal water shuffle

A move by Federal water officials to release water from Friant Dam to accommodate the needs of competing, farm water users is prompting increased worries from Friant Water Authority over its ability to serve disadvantaged communities in the San Joaquin Valley.Last Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced it would begin releasing water from Millerton Lake to assist San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors, those who have contracted with Federal water officials for Sacramento River water in exchange for historic rights to the King...

A move by Federal water officials to release water from Friant Dam to accommodate the needs of competing, farm water users is prompting increased worries from Friant Water Authority over its ability to serve disadvantaged communities in the San Joaquin Valley.

Last Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced it would begin releasing water from Millerton Lake to assist San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors, those who have contracted with Federal water officials for Sacramento River water in exchange for historic rights to the Kings and San Joaquin River.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Friant Water Authority – which services the Friant-Kern Canal and a bevy of San Joaquin Valley communities from Madera to southern Kern counties – expressed disappointment at the decision by Federal officials.

“The water released from Friant Dam for the Exchange Contractors would have otherwise been available for delivery to Friant Division contractors in communities stretching from Madera and Chowchilla at the north to as far south as Bakersfield and Arvin in Kern County,” the water agency said in a statement.

They added that the release isn’t a mere triviality.

“The amount of water to be released could be as large as the total water supply needed to meet the needs of Los Angeles for an entire year,” Friant officials said.

They noted that the release could impact the water allocation to the Friant Division’s first class contractors. Federal officials set that allocation at 15 percent earlier in the water year.

“This summer it’s likely that dozens of small and rural or disadvantaged communities on the valley’s eastside will require emergency water supplies as their wells go dry when the aquifers they rely on are not recharged with Friant water,” the agency said.

At the center of the move, Friant alleges, is a legal controversy over how the Federal government is supposed to meet its obligation to the San Joaquin River exchange contractors and whether Federal officials are oversampling Friant water to meet those obligations.

“Nevertheless, the main reason for the need to release water from Friant Dam in the first place is that Delta supplies are increasingly unreliable,” the agency notes.

In their statement, Friant Water officials tendered a broader judgment on a bevy of on-going fronts related to the state’s water situation amid worsening drought.

“One day, Californians will wake up to realize that they didn’t sacrifice farms to save fish – they lost both.”

Venti-sized skepticism turns to hopes for safer streets near Fresno’s Woodward Park

Crossing Friant Road on foot Thursday to hear Fresno city leaders unveil their plan to make the streets around Woodward Park safer for pedestrians and cyclists, I carried an iced coffee and a venti-sized reservoir of skepticism.Both were nearly drained by the time I left.What started out as a citizen-led gathering in remembrance of road tr...

Crossing Friant Road on foot Thursday to hear Fresno city leaders unveil their plan to make the streets around Woodward Park safer for pedestrians and cyclists, I carried an iced coffee and a venti-sized reservoir of skepticism.

Both were nearly drained by the time I left.

What started out as a citizen-led gathering in remembrance of road traffic victims had been commandeered by Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer along with City Councilmembers Mike Karbassi and Garry Bredefeld — a development that instantly tripped my skepticism meter.

Plus, barely three weeks had passed since I lent my voice to this very issue. What could Fresno’s electeds and staff come up with in three weeks to address a problem they’ve largely ignored for decades?

Turns out, quite a bit. Enough for a skeptic to be pleasantly surprised.

Some of the remedies Dyer, Karbassi and Bredefeld spoke about and committed to will happen right away or over the next several months. (City crews were installing reflective tape to the backplates of nearby traffic signals as they spoke.) Others will require years.

When finished, they won’t make pedestrian and cyclist access to Woodward Park from Friant and Audubon Drive completely safe. But crossing those streets will be less hazardous — provided the new measures aren’t ignored by Fresno motorists.

“It was good to see some immediate action being taken, but a lot of this is up to the drivers to listen,” said Matthew Woodward, a member of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Commission. “Changing people’s habits is going to require a longer-term investment.”

Woodward said he was pleasantly surprised to hear Dyer announce that right-hand turns onto Friant during red lights will soon be prohibited from westbound Shepherd Avenue, Fort Washington Drive, Champlain Drive, Copper Avenue and Copper River Drive. (The notorious intersection at Friant and Audubon, which I believe to be the best location for an overpass or underpass, will require further study.)

Two other noteworthy changes include giving pedestrians and cyclists a 5-to-7-second head start at certain intersections while moving back vehicle limit lines so they’re 10 feet away from crosswalks. Both measures will add safety and visibility.

However, Woodward and others weren’t as enthusiastic about a proposed parking lot on the west side of Friant Road, accessible from the Fort Washington entrance, meant for Eaton Trail users. This lot would be free, allowing people to avoid the $5 per car park entrance fee.

“People are still going to be crossing (Friant) either way,” said Woodward, possibly in reference to my iced coffee, “and I can see that space where the parking lot is supposed to go being used for something else.”

Since many of these remedies aren’t cost prohibitive, there’s really no good excuse for why city leaders didn’t take these steps sooner. After all, it’s not as if road safety around Woodward Park is a new problem. Unfortunately, as Dyer admitted Thursday, it often takes a tragedy such as the Jan. 12 death of Paul Moore to get people like himself to pay attention.

Which has to rank among the most honest answers to ever escape a politician’s mouth.

On Friday afternoon, Dyer was scheduled to join two other city councilmembers (Nelson Esparza and Tyler Maxwell) along Shields Avenue for the official groundbreaking of the Midtown Trail — a much-needed cycling and pedestrian improvement project in central Fresno that has taken nearly six years to get off the ground.

Bottom line: The distance between the promises our elected officials make and when they’re actually delivered becomes a yawning chasm far too often.

It’s up to all of us to hold them accountable. Bang the drum loudly enough, and you never know what might happen.

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