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.”
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 ‘check-the-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.”