Farmers Slam State Plan For Water Control

By  John Derby
Times Publisher
October 20, 2016

One man came to Merced County this week to represent the State Water Control Board, but they should have sent an army, because the crowd that packed the Board of Supervisors chamber were out for war.
Tom Howard, the executive director of Water Board, gave a presentation on the plan to increase flows from valley rivers to the Delta, from under 20 percent to about 40 percent.
Some of the two dozen speakers in opposition to the plan, called it a “conspiracy” to take more water from the valley and divert it to Governor Jerry Brown’s water tunnel plan.
Other speakers said the economics of the plan are flawed, while others said the scientific research done by UC Berkeley and UC Davis is neither correct nor balanced.
In theory, the plan is to balance the needs of people against the needs of the environment, but by environment, the scientists are mainly looking at salmon and perhaps the smelt.
For starters, Tom Howard said the Water Board would be giving the communities more time to evaluate the plan, and to publicly comment on it.
Meetings have been set for Nov. 29 in Sacramento, Dec. 16 in Stockton, Dec. 19 in Merced, at 9 a.m., in the Multicultural Arts Center (645 W. Main Street); and Dec. 20 at the Modesto Centre Plaza, 9 a.m.
Many people attending this week’s meeting assumed it would include the attendance of the whole State Water Control Board, which is not elected but appointed by Governor Jerry Brown, and answerable to him.
Howard spoke of the failure of the last general plan in 1995, and said that was the reason for the decline in salmon runs. He said it was clearly outdated.
Since that last plan was adopted, there have been several years of drought, and as a result, the State Water Control Board has been using its resources to solve problems which needed immediate attention.
Work on the water plan was in the dark for two and a half years, but now it has come to the fore. Speakers were unhappy that the state had not had a new plan for 20 years, and now wants to complete one in such a short time. The plan is scheduled for completion in July of 2017, and the time for all comments to be in is set for noon on Jan. 17, 2017.
Howard said the Water Board is interested in settlements, and feels it is actually cutting the amount of flow to the Delta from 75 percent needed for the salmon to 40 percent.
Not one Merced County Supervisor was in agreement with the State Water Control Plan.
Supervisor Daron McDaniel was opposed to the necessary flow, the scientific research, the possible effects of improved stream beds and the effects of restoration on the salmon.
Supervisor John Pedrozo wanted the governor to tell the other agencies they had to control the predators if they really wanted more salmon to reach the ocean. He also said the choice of dates for meetings was bad because they were being held in the thick of the holidays.
Supervisor Deidre Kelsey wanted to know what was meant by “unimpaired flow.” Was that going back to before the dams were built? Also was the state taking into account the housing which the valley was providing, and the need for water for those people. Where does the water come from to recharge the underground water supply?
Supervisor Jerry O’Banion said at the rate the state is going this valley could become another Owen’s Valley. It would seem like the Water Board is trying to take care of the environment and not the people or the farms.
Supervisor Hub Walsh wanted to know how much of the increased flow would end up in Brown’s twin tunnels heading south.
Howard assured Walsh there was no conspiracy. The water was for the environment, he said.
Congressman Jim Costa had a lot to say about the water plan calling it “Incredibly Imbalanced” and full of false choices. He said the state of California has a failed water plan and it is because of politics, not the lack of water.
He said California produces half the fruit and vegetables eaten by the whole nation, however, the valley of that product has declined from $58 billion to $47 billion in the past year. It still leads the nation in citrus, dairy, almonds and grapes for wine.
The problem he said is that most of the nation feels that food comes from the grocery store. “Food grows where water flows,” he said repeating a statement which is very visible in the valley.
A battery of speakers came to the podium hammering home the plight of the valley and its farms, if the state continues to take its water.
District Attorney Larry Morse said the loss of water even affects law enforcement, jobs, the drinking water in our towns and the safety of the community.
Councilman Mike Murphy said the City of Merced had been a good steward of its water cutting use by 36 percent but there was a limit to what it could afford to lose, and the loss from the local sources could cause a major problem with the underground water supply.
Agriculture activist Diane Westmoreland Pedrozo said her’s was an emotional response, and wants to know what the state plans to do if the growers stop planting because of the lack of water.
Mike Jensen from the Merced Irrigation District said that it has been working on a plan called the “Safe Plan” which will be available later this week.
A man from Chowchilla encouraged Merced County by saying, “We are behind you and I hope you don’t fold.”
Bryan Raymond, an Atwater city councilman, said: ‘You are like the Grinch who stole Christmas,” and added he was just a simple man, and was worried when the “Scientific Community” was making decisions which will affect the whole state.
Tim Robins, a water attorney, said he was not here to represent anyone, but felt the plan which he had read was strictly out of balance. He said if the state is trying to save fish then why release water when there are only 1 percent of the juvenile fish in the rivers. “No fish are moving out to the ocean in February.”
Merced City Councilman Josh Pedrozo called the State Water Control Plan a devastation to the valley and Merced County. “ It is an incredibly flawed plan.”
Maxwell Norton, a former farm advisor for Merced County pointed out some economic facts. He had his colleagues calculate the impact on losing an acre of five local crops: Almonds — $24,000, Tomatoes — $20,640, Peaches — $52,440 and Sweet Potatoes — $29,250.
Agriculture generates a quarter of all private sector employment in the valley. That is because for every job in Agriculture, 2.2 additional jobs are created in other parts of the economy.

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