Outrage grows as state plans to grab water from the valley

July 12, 2018

The Merced County Board of Supervisors this week joined a chorus of valley leaders and regional agencies who are denouncing the State Water Resources Control Board’s decision to demand twice as much water flow down the Tuolumne, Stanislaus and Merced rivers in a purported effort “to prevent an ecological crisis” and save fish.

Local leaders consider key elements of the final draft of the Bay-Delta plan as pure hogwash, and an attack on the economic well-being of the San Joaquin Valley.
“The economy won’t get any better if we don’t have water,” McDaniel stressed.
Merced County, Stanislaus County and Madera County governments are in the process of organizing a rally to be held on the steps of the State Capitol on Aug. 16 to protest the Water Board’s revised version of a draft plan on how to treat unimpaired flows from local rivers.
The latest update, released on June 29, continues to push a 40 percent unimpaired flow requirement, February through June, on the three regional rivers through to the San Joaquin River. The flow would significantly reduce water available to water users in the Lower San Joaquin River Watershed.
McDaniel is hoping that jointly, the three counties can put together an educational tool to allow the public to better understand the issues.
Supervisor Lloyd Pareira agreed with McDaniel, saying, "SIGMA, passed in 2014, requires our sub-basins to become sustainable. The state is requiring us to make things better, but at the same time taking away the main tool to do that. The hope for the water was making the sub-basin sustainable by recharging the groundwater."
He added, "Our Castle projects have the potential to die without water to support them.”
Meanwhile, the Merced Irrigation District continues to challenge the science behind the Bay Delta Plan update.
“The District has maintained for years that simply diverting senior water rights away from our community for the benefit of others solves nothing,” said John Sweigard, MID’s general manager. “It devastates one of the most disadvantaged regions of the state and does nothing to benefit salmon or other wildlife.”
MID has continued to advocate its proposed alternative to the state’s water grab: The Merced River S.A.F.E. Plan (Salmon, Agriculture, Flows and Environment). The plan represents a comprehensive alternative proposal aimed directly at supporting sustainable agriculture, fisheries and the environment. MID officials say the S.A.F.E. Plan would put decades of river science into immediate action.
According to MID, the state’s water plan will cost the Merced-area economy more than $230 million in economic activity and nearly 1,000 lost jobs. At the same time, MID contends, the water grab will do nothing to improve conditions or salmon populations in the Delta or elsewhere: the State Water Board’s initial assessment purported that 1,200 salmon per year would be saved. This new document claims the state does not know if it will result in more salmon.
MID officials also point out that no compromise is being seriously considered by the state.
“We have reached a critical point,” Sweigard said. “Everything – and anything – is on the table at this point to protect our community’s senior water rights.”
This week, the Association of California Water Agencies released the following statement: “The State Water Board’s approach fails to ensure adequate habitat and other important functions critical to species survival. Instead, it will lead to widespread fallowing of vital agriculture land, affect drinking water supplies and hydro power generation, undercut groundwater sustainability goals and make more difficult the implementation of other priority water issues. …”
A press release from the state’s Almond Alliance stated: “This proposal by the state water board will not save salmon but it will have devastating consequences on not just almond growers but all San Joaquin Valley farmers and countless other workers who benefit from the ripple effect of its economic activity.”
The Alliance highlighted that the almond industry creates over 104,000 jobs throughout the state with 97,000 jobs in the Central Valley.
Said State Assemblyman Adam Gray, “The State Water Resources Control Board’s decision is the first shot fired in the next chapter of California’s water wars. The board has chosen to create, in their own words, ‘a permanent regulatory drought’ and shrugged off our concerns as ‘significant but unavoidable.’ … They have left us no alternative. We will continue to negotiate with the best interests of the valley at heart, but, if the state continues to violate the principles of good faith, a decades worth of lawsuits are about to begin.”

The final public comment period is now open until July 27, with final adoption scheduled for Aug. 21. To find out how to submit a comment, and more information about the plan, go online to: waterboards.ca.gov. Click on “water rights” on top of the home page, then click on Bay-Delta Plan in next menu, then click on “new press release.”

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