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Region Rallies For Fight Against State Water Grab
Stan River
People enjoyed taking to the cool, refreshing waters of the Stanislaus River at Jacob Myers Park in Riverbank recently, hoping to beat the triple digit heat. The Stanislaus is one of three rivers that opponents of a state water grab say would be harmed by the proposal. Marg Jackson/The News

What the Save The Stan organization has advocated against for years occurred Friday, as the State Water Resources Control Board announced plans to divert billions of gallons of water a year from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers.

“It is an unfortunate plan that ignores our region’s economic concerns, ecosystem science and many good ideas we have proposed for responsible resource management,” Save The Stan officials noted on their Facebook page. “Despite united and widespread opposition from the South San Joaquin and Oakdale Irrigation Districts, other water agencies, local governments, farming experts, economists and business leaders, and thousands of everyday citizens, the state insists on taking water that it has no legal right to.

“The purpose, it contends, is to help restore native salmon populations in the three rivers and improve water quality in the Delta. We believe there are other ways to accomplish those goals without hijacking our water.”

Local legislators were also quick to respond, pointing to the negative impact they see as coming from the so-called ‘state water grab.’

“Under Sacramento’s new plan, residents and farmers alike will suffer skyrocketing rates that will cripple our local economy, farms, and communities,” said Congressman Jeff Denham. “The board has ignored scientific evidence and the input of Valley residents and we must fight back to protect our Valley water rights and save our economy, farms, and communities.”

Denham noted that the State Water Resources Control Board’s Bay-Delta plan would essentially flush away 40 percent or more of water for local farmers with devastating impacts for the Central Valley economy.

“The State Resources Control Board’s Bay-Delta plan would mandate 40 percent of unimpaired flows along the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced Rivers from February 1 to June 30 annually under the guise of improving river conditions for salmon. However, it blindly follows the more flow equals more fish mantra while failing to recognize the true threats to endangered fish in our rivers – predation and inadequate habitat restoration. These are two issues our local community and Irrigation Districts are working to actually address.”

The Save The Stan statement also indicates how big a financial impact the decision would have, noting “The ripple effect could cause as much as $12.9 billion in annual losses to agribusiness, food processing and related industries. If you live in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, you will feel the pain.”

Assemblyman Heath Flora, representing this area in the 12th Assembly District, said “The State Water Board thinks this plan will have a limited impact on Valley residents. But last year I joined the thousands of you who showed up to voice your concerns when the Water Board came looking for public comment.”

In March 2017 Modesto Irrigation District (MID) and Turlock Irrigation District (TID) filed joint comments addressing a number of technical and legal issues surrounding the State Water Board’s proposal. During that same time, thousands of residents filed public comment at a number of hearings held across the region. MID and TID have asked for an extension of the 21-day public comment period for the final version of the plan released on July 6.

“It’s no coincidence that the Water Board released their outrageous proposal on the first day of the Legislature’s summer recess,” continued Flora. “The Legislature does not re-convene again until after the 21-day public comment period is over, and therefore cannot use the Legislative process to bring awareness to any of it.”

Denham, meanwhile, said he strongly supports the Tuolumne River Management Plan developed by Turlock and Modesto Irrigation Districts as a science-based plan that will meet the state’s ecological development goals without sacrificing Central Valley water. The plan was constructed using the latest science conducted on the Tuolumne as part of the federal relicensing of the Don Pedro Hydropower Project and maintains water supply reliability for agriculture and urban users, identifies measures to protect fish populations and supports new recreational opportunities.

Friday’s release of the third and final draft of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan update comes after a nine-year process which included public hearings in the area, review of more than 1,400 comment letters and the study and analyzing of options by the board. Consideration of the final draft plan is due by the State Water Board in August.

“A public hearing is scheduled for Aug. 21 in Sacramento,” said Save The Stan officials. “We will keep you posted on how you can register your opposition and let the water board know that what it is doing is wrong.”

A joint statement issued by the Turlock and Modesto irrigation districts railed against the state as well.

“Despite having well over a year to adequately address thousands of public comments from our region – 6,589 from the Worth Your Fight campaign alone – the State Water Resources Control Board today (Friday) doubled down on its proposal to mandate 40 percent of unimpaired flows along the Tuolumne River from February 1 to June 30 annually. The State Water Board thinks this plan will have limited harmful effects. But we know this water grab will have devastating impacts to our region, which is why thousands showed up and voiced frustrations when the State Water Board came to our communities.”

Officials added that they were “disappointed, but unfortunately not surprised” when a new study they prepared with other viable options was “ignored” by the State Water Board.

“Apparently after a year of review and edits, the State Water Board feels it only needs to give our region 21 days to review and comment on the latest draft,” the joint statement reads. “The Districts are joining other water agencies to petition the State Water Board to give us more time to comment on this proposal that will drastically impact our communities.”