Agriculture

Valley lawmakers blast river flow proposal

Modesto-area lawmakers protest river flow plan

Assembly members Adam Gray and Kristin Olsen criticized proposed flow increases on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers at the State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. (John Holland/jholland
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Assembly members Adam Gray and Kristin Olsen criticized proposed flow increases on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers at the State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. (John Holland/jholland

Two lawmakers from the Modesto area urged a state board on Tuesday to rethink a plan for greatly increasing river flows.

The doubling of reservoir releases into the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers would devastate the region’s already wobbly economy, Assembly members Kristin Olsen and Adam Gray told the State Water Resources Control Board.

They asked for more time to study last week’s updated proposal, which aims to help salmon and other native fish and improve water quality in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

“We have 60 days to review a 2,000-page document that has incredible impact,” said Gray, D-Merced.

The board could not act because the matter was not on its agenda, but two members said they look forward to discussing the concerns. Gray and Olsen, R-Riverbank, delivered a petition signed by 3,188 people opposed to the proposal.

It calls for boosting flows to 40 percent of predam conditions between February and June of each year, when most of the runoff happens. The actual flows could range from 30 percent to 50 percent, depending on future data.

We have 60 days to review a 2,000-page document that has incredible impact.

Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced

The board will take public comment until Nov. 15, including a Nov. 4 hearing in Modesto, and could make a decision in early 2017.

The proposal was an increase over the 35 percent sought by the board in 2012. The Tuolumne River Trust urged at least 50 percent in its own online petition this week.

“Historically, an estimated 130,000 salmon spawned in the Tuolumne,” the group said in an email to supporters. “Last year, the number plummeted to less than 500. The situation is desperate, and the state water board is finally stepping up to do something about it.”

Users of the Stanislaus River would give up relatively less water under the board plan because it already is under higher flow standards. The Tuolumne and Merced would lose more, and critics say the cuts would be especially harsh in dry years.

They urge fishery improvements that do not involve flow, such as streambed restoration and control of nonnative bass that prey on salmon.

“We have the same goal,” Olsen said. “We want to see the Delta thrive, we want to see the fisheries thrive, but we’re not convinced that the flow proposal from the board is the best way to achieve that.”

Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the five-member board, said the proposal reflects the need to help fish that are under “multiple stressors.” She also acknowledged that the reduced diversions would have “a huge impact on the people who have grown and developed communities and farms and wonderful things based on having had that water.”

Board member Dorene D’Adamo, a Turlock-area resident, said she has met often with Gray and Olsen on the issue. She urged concerned people to review the plan and look for ways to “make adjustments so that we can work for the fish and for the communities.”

John Holland: 209-578-2385

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