Area Ral­lies Against State’s ‘Water Grab’

The Oakdale Leader - - FRONT PAGE - WATER, PAGE A14

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 hi­jack-

ing our water.”

Oak­dale and South San Joaquin Ir­ri­ga­tion Dis­tricts on Tues­day is­sued a joint state­ment re­gard­ing the state ac­tion, not­ing that “the water board took nine years and spent more than $70 mil­lion to cre­ate its plan, then com­pletely ig­nored near unan­i­mous op­po­si­tion from peo­ple in our area – re­gional water ex­perts, busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, or­ga­ni­za­tions rep­re­sent­ing farm­ers, in­de­pen­dent econ­o­mists and av­er­age cit­i­zens.”

Pub­lic hear­ings hosted in Modesto, Merced, Stock­ton and Sacra­mento were at­tended by thou­sands of peo­ple. Most strongly ob­jected to the pro­posal, the joint state­ment in­di­cates. Dur­ing the six-month com­ment pe­riod, the water board es­ti­mates it re­ceived 10,400 writ­ten and oral com­ments.

‘No sig­nif­i­cant changes have been made to the pro­posed plan amend­ment,’ is how the water board sum­ma­rized the value of the feed­back it re­ceived.

“Ap­par­ently, none of our voices mat­tered. The five water board mem­bers didn’t lis­ten,” said the joint state­ment.

The Oak­dale and South San Joaquin Ir­ri­ga­tion Dis­tricts – who share his­toric water rights on the Stanis­laus River – par­tic­i­pated in more than three years of “set­tle­ment” ne­go­ti­a­tions with the state. District lead­ers said they shared with state of­fi­cials 24 years of hard sci­ence about the Stanis­laus River, yet no changes were made.

“It is an eco­nomic gut punch for our re­gion,” said Steve Knell, OID’s gen­eral man­ager. “All our meet­ings were ap­par­ently just a ‘check­the-box’ re­quire­ment in their reg­u­la­tory process. Ten thou­sand com­ments from our re­gion and not one change to the orig­i­nal doc­u­ment? Re­ally? Tell me this doc­u­ment wasn’t cooked and baked years ago. This just stinks!”

The state’s plan ac­knowl­edges that it could re­sult in what many call a “reg­u­la­tory drought,” when sup­plies for peo­ple, agribusi­ness and recre­ation are lim­ited even in av­er­age rain­fall and snow­fall years.

“It is un­for­tu­nate that so much of the prac­ti­cal water man­age­ment his­tory and em­pir­i­cal fish­eries sci­ence our dis­tricts and other water agen­cies have de­vel­oped on our rivers has been dis­re­garded,” said Peter Ri­etk­erk, SSJID’s gen­eral man­ager. “The state water board has failed to pro­duce a plan that seeks vi­a­bil­ity for both lo­cal fish­eries and the re­gional econ­omy.”

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.

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.”

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