Madera makes water sense

Badlands Journal Bill Hatch Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2003 Wisdom out of Madera County.Caught between exploding Fresno and Merced (where the University of California would induce enormous growth), Madera County frequently has been forgotten. But it has done some intelligent things. Its commitment to agriculture has led to a greenbelt around the City of Madera that resembles the forward-looking policies of communities on the Central Coast more than the growthomaniac municipalities in the Central Valley. In the decision well-covered below by Charles McCarthy of the Fresno Bee, there is evidence of more local-government intelligence north of Visalia and south of, well, maybe, Chico?The Madera Canal referred to in the article is the smaller, northern version of the Friant-Kern Canal, that goes south from the Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River through eastern, agricultural Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties.Water agencies and federal government agencies (Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers) are reported, now and then, to be talking seriously about adding another dam above the Friant, on the San Joaquin.Rio Mesa housing bid put off Madera County planners withhold approval because of water issues. Fresno Bee - 8/30/03 By Charles McCarthy, staff writerMADERA RANCHOS -- Water worries -- from drought to flood -- delayed a landowner's bid this week to win Madera County's approval for a 793-acre Rio Mesa subdivision.Central Green Co. asked the county Planning Commission for its blessing on River Ranch Estates, 182 urban lots on agricultural land along the San Joaquin River south of Friant Dam.Central Green's plan would eventually lead to the development of 1,646 lots east of Highway 41.'Be cautious,' Madera County Water Committee Chairman Denis Prosperi warned the planners. 'We can't afford a mistake. We're already water-short.'Public concerns about water for an urban population and potential flooding from the Madera Canal helped persuade the Planning Commission to delay deciding on Central Green's environmental report.Air pollution, wildlife and traffic impacts also were expressed concerns.Speakers who urged caution said they weren't against the project -- they just felt their questions had not been answered.No date was set for the county staff to return with answers.Several questioned Central Green's assurances that river water for a budding city would be available through existing federal agricultural water contracts.With a sinking water level, wells in the area might not keep both urban and farm taps flowing.Central Green would have its own water company, the planners were told.Concerns about Madera Canal flooding were highlighted in 2001, when Fresno lawyer Timothy Jones unanimously won a U.S. Supreme Court appeal on behalf of Central Green.This keeps alive a lawsuit contending that water leaking from the Madera Canal because of shoddy construction and maintenance damaged landowner and general partner Larry Freels' 1,000-acre pistachio orchard.Jones' appeal challenged lower court rulings that protect the government from damages caused by flooding in connection with water projects.The water in the Madera Canal was for irrigation, not flood-control runoff. Thus, the government remains a defendant.Skeptics at this week's planning meeting wondered how too much water escaping from the 39.5-miles-long canal built in the 1940s might affect future homeowners in the area.Jones told the Madera County planners that the lawsuit should not be a part of their consideration of the Central Green proposal.The day after the delay, Jones said he remains optimistic. He noted that county staff had studied it at length and recommended it be approved.'This is the first project that's come out of Rio Mesa that has unanimous support of the staff,' Jones said.The county approved its Rio Mesa Area General Plan in 1995.Though the University of California rejected proposals to put its new campus west of the river and south and east of the junction of state highways 40 and 145, landowners continued planning for eventual urban development.County Planning Director Dave Herb said the morning after the marathon meeting that he would like to have answers to the water questions in time for another session in September.#