Farmers, laborers, students, citizens and even lawmakers opposed to a plan they believe will disrupt Northern California’s water supply demonstrated on the steps of the State Capitol on Monday, urging the State Water Resources Control Board to reject the proposal that would cut water use for the benefit of fish and wildlife.
Despite vehement opposition from a broad coalition of local governments and organizations, the water board in July released its third and final draft of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan update, which calls for allocation of 40 percent of unimpaired flows along the lower San Joaquin River and its tributaries – the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers – to help rehabilitate the area’s native fish species.
The plan is the result of a nine-year process that has been met with resistance from water stakeholders and their elected officials every step of the way, with many famers and local water agencies feeling as if the Board has indeed waged a water war on the San Joaquin Valley.
When the first draft of the plan was released in September 2016, hundreds of legislators, water and agricultural leaders, agency representatives and community members addressed the Board three months later in Modesto, sharing the potential impacts the water decision could have on both farmers and the community at large.
“I would offer up to you today that no one in this room thinks 40 or 50 percent unimpaired flows is a balanced approach,” Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa told the Board at that 2016 public hearing. “People are scared. They really are with what this can do to them, what this can do to the Valley. Please listen to the people.”
The grassroots effort on Aug. 20 saw a unified group storm the State Capitol to once again plead its case with the Board. The “Stop the State Water Grab” rally comes just days ahead of the Board’s hearing to consider the plan, and over 500 people were expected to make their way to Sacramento for a protest on the North Steps.
One of those who planned to attend the rally was Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth.
“Water is the lifeblood of our economy,” Soiseth said. “We need to recognize that both farmers and cities have made significant investments in community infrastructure, such as recycled water projects, recharging aquifers, and adopting state-of-the-art irrigation practices to conserve this valuable natural resource. The bureaucrats at the State Water Board simply ignore the impacts of their reckless decisions … We need to fight for our future, fight for your water and fight for what’s right.”
Representatives like Assemblyman Adam Gray – who organized the protest – along with Assemblyman Heath Flora and Congressman Jeff Denham were to be present at the rally as well.
“We want the rest of the state to see how important the Valley is,” Denham said. “Water affects more than just agriculture … it’s our recreation, it’s our power, it’s our drinking water. You take 40 percent of it, we’ll not only have less of it but the quality of water will go down with it. We want the entire state to understand how this new decision will impact us and that we’re going to fight back.”
Along with the Monday rally, the public was encouraged to attend and make comments at the State Water Board’s hearing for the Bay-Delta Plan update, which was hosted Tuesday, Aug. 21 in the Cal EPA Building, 1001 I St. in Sacramento.
For more information, visit www.worthyourfight.org.