STANISLAUS COUNTY — Stanislaus County supervisors took a formal stand Tuesday against a state plan to release more water from Sierra Nevada dams to restore fish populations downstream.
On a 4-0 vote, the board approved a resolution predicting severe economic impacts in the Northern San Joaquin Valley if the water is diverted from farmers. Local officials said there are no studies showing the increased river flows will benefit salmon.
"I don't know when reason is going to take over here," Supervisor Terry Withrow said.
Supervisor Dick Monteith was absent.
The state plan, designed to restore ecosystems in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Bay, is the subject of a hearing today before the State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento, where local officials intend to have their voices heard.
"This is going to be devastating for our community," said Larry Byrd, a Modesto Irrigation District board member.
The draft plan would require districts to pour 35 percent of natural flows into the Stanislaus, Tuol-umne and Merced rivers from February to June every year. According to local officials, diverting the water from farmers would fallow 128,295 acres of the best cropland and result in the loss of 800 family farms.
State-commissioned studies on changes to the Bay-Delta Plan predict that up to 210,000 farmland acres would be fallowed in dry years. The studies project more than 1,200 job losses in drought years, but local officials believe that estimate is far too low.
The county resolution cited other adverse effects:
$69 million in annual losses to an economically distressed region, including $15.5 million to the Modesto Irrigation District and $30 million and $23.5 million to the Turlock and Merced irrigation districts, respectively
A combined $4.5 million in lost energy revenue every year for the Modesto, Turlock and Merced irrigation districts
About 460 jobs cut by the three districts
Critics of the water board plan said groundwater would be depleted when farmers resort to wells to irrigate crops. In addition, electric service ratepayers would suffer.
Michael Frantz, president of the TID board, said state water officials have found a way around the historic water rights of valley irrigation districts. He suggested that additional water released from Don Pedro Reservoir and Lake McClure might never reach the bay, but could be pumped from the delta to Southern California.
"The fish are just an excuse for stealing our water," Supervisor Jim DeMartini said. Supervisors said that San Francisco, with rights to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir storage, was being exempted from the water release requirements for political reasons.
Local critics charge that the plan to release more water ignores other factors that hurt salmon. They said the state water board should consider other alternatives that would be more effective and cost less.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.
STANISLAUS COUNTY SUPERVISORS WATCH
Stanislaus County Supervisors took the following action Tuesday:
Scheduled a public hearing for April 23 at 9 a.m. to consider registration and inspection fees for tattoo artists and homemade food businesses
Approved a partnership with Marin and Napa counties to operate customer services for people who are eligible for the Medi-Cal expansion next year
Approved a resolution to oppose any state proposals that would threaten enterprise zones