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River flow critics question fish data

The State Water Resources Control Board released its long-delayed Substitute Environmental Document that unsurprisingly calls for larger amounts of water from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers to be sent through to the ocean for the benefit of fish. This unsurprisingly touched off intense anger in our region.
The State Water Resources Control Board released its long-delayed Substitute Environmental Document that unsurprisingly calls for larger amounts of water from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers to be sent through to the ocean for the benefit of fish. This unsurprisingly touched off intense anger in our region. jlee@modbee.com

The final hearing on the state’s river flow plan Tuesday dealt in part with how long salmon stay in the streams each year.

The State Water Resources Control Board proposes to roughly double, from February through June, the volume of the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers. Opponents said almost all of the young salmon have headed out to sea by May.

“Why waste that block of water on something that’s not there?” said Larry Byrd, a board member and former employee with the Modesto Irrigation District.

The state board held sessions in Modesto, Merced and Stockton along with the opening and closing meetings in the capital. It will take written comments until March 17 and could make a decision in September.

The state agency estimates a 14 percent drop in river supplies in average years and 38 percent in “critically dry” years. It acknowledges that this would lead to an increase in well pumping, which also is coming under tighter rules.

Click here to see Assemblymember Adam Gray’s letter to the water board.

Click here to see Gray’s talking points.

Environmentalists and fishing groups called again Tuesday for higher flows on rivers that they say have suffered from a century-plus of diversion. So did managers from state and federal agencies dealing with fish and water quality.

Salmon hatch on tributaries to the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers and spend a few years in the Pacific Ocean before returning to spawn in the fall. They face non-native predators, massive water pumps, pollution and other hazards on this journey.

Young salmon have been detected in June in the Mossdale area of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, said Dean Marston, an environmental program manager for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The skeptics included water board member Dorene D’Adamo of Turlock, who said its staff needs to review June fish data from the affected irrigation districts. These suppliers ramp up their water use around this time to get the crops through the hot, dry summer.

“I’m getting different numbers, and I just want to make sure we’ve got the right information,” D’Adamo said.

Irrigation managers also have urged measures that do not involve flow, such as predator control and spawning gravel restoration.

The board last week extended the previous Jan. 17 comment deadline by two months. Some of Tuesday’s speakers said they appreciated this, but they still urged a rewrite of the 2,000-plus-page plan.

“As a mayor, I would never accept a staff report with this many inconsistencies on a dog park proposal, let alone a document that will shape the future of water in my region,” Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth said. He also is a third-generation almond grower and a policy adviser for MID.

John Holland: 209-578-2385

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