The State Water Resources Control Board proposal to increase flows from Lake Don Pedro into the Tuolumne River by up to 500,000 acre-feet (188 percent more!) from February to June each year is unreasonable, unfair and threatens the quality of life of our region.
First, this is about a great deal more than agriculture. It is about electrical rates, safe drinking water, jobs and economic opportunity.
I am a physician and I come from a family of physicians. We are not farmers. We live by choice in an agricultural region, and appreciate and value the benefits that industry brings to all of us. That said, if the state board proposal only impacted agriculture it would still deserve to be laughed out the hearing room.
But this is about much more than agriculture.
The city of Turlock has been working diligently with the Turlock Irrigation District to bring to its citizens the benefit of drinking water from the Tuolumne. This water will be cleaner and safer than the groundwater we currently use in our homes. TID is committed to bringing surface water to the urban residents of the TID service area. That is as it should be; the ratepayers of TID are the ones who paid for TID's 68 percent share of Don Pedro.
The state water board proposal envisions taking this water (at no cost) purportedly to help restore salmon, but evidence that this is would happen is sorely lacking. They also cannot assure the released water will make it to the salmon at the Golden Gate.
What is certain will be the availability of more water to be pumped to Southern California. In effect one of California's poorest and most economically challenged areas will be subsidizing many of California's wealthiest areas. This is a reverse entitlement process, where wealthier parts of California take water we paid for and give us nothing in return.
It is ironic that both the TID and the Modesto Irrigation District make thousands of acre- feet of water available annually to meet the fish flow mandates placed upon San Francisco. But San Francisco pays TID and MID for this water. Under the state proposal, local ratepayers will receive nothing.
Since the last major water storage facility in California was constructed our population has increased by more than 30 percent, while water storage capacity has increased by just 1 percent. The state water board knows this.
Voters who live in the valley have often supported water quality and quantity improvements bonds. But the increased surface water facilities are always stymied. Perhaps the state board should focus on this issue rather than trying to Band-Aid one state problem by permanently damaging a small region of our state.
We read in The Bee how Modesto and Stanislaus County always rank among the lowest in quality of life. In fact, our county and the San Joaquin valley are among California and the nation's poorest and most underachieving areas according to health, educational and economic opportunity standards.
The state water board wants to take water from reservoirs paid for by the TID, MID and the Merced Irrigation District ratepayers, and give it to others who have not invested in water storage. It continues the pattern of state and federal officials using the valley to the advantage of the wealthier parts of California. Usually this takes the form of the state designing funding formulas that shortchange the valley.
This proposal is more blatant, and verges on looting poor areas to favor others. It is the anti-Robin Hood approach to public policy.
Romeo is chairman of the Turlock Chamber of Commerce.