River flow plan will get airing at Modesto meetings

A Worth Your Fight sign is pictured near a canal Wednesday on McHenry Avenue south of Ladd Road in Modesto.
A Worth Your Fight sign is pictured near a canal Wednesday on McHenry Avenue south of Ladd Road in Modesto.

The state’s new proposal to increase river flows could get its first formal response Tuesday from the Modesto Irrigation District board. Expect it to be critical.

A day later and a few blocks away, a high-ranking official who helped craft the plan will discuss it with the Stanislaus County Water Advisory Committee.

Flows would roughly double on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers under the plan announced Sept. 15 by the State Water Resources Control Board. It seeks to protect native fish and reduce salinity in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

MID and the Turlock Irrigation District, partners on the Tuolumne, say the proposal would mean no river water in dry years such as 2015. They warn of reduced hydropower for their electricity customers and more groundwater pumping by farmers and the city of Modesto, which gets treated river water.

The plan “will create significant, unavoidable and lasting impacts that will harm the socioeconomic welfare of those within Merced, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties,” says a resolution up for a vote Tuesday.

The increased flows would happen between February and June of each year. The state board aims to reach 40 percent of the level before dams were built, but they could range from 30 to 50 percent depending on conditions. The initial proposal in 2012 called for 35 percent.

Irrigation districts urge fish measures that do not involve flow, such as controlling non-native predators and enhancing gravel spawning beds.

MID and TID have launched an online campaign against the state plan, It will be discussed at the meeting, which will begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the MID office, 1231 11th St., Modesto.

The county committee mainly advises the Board of Supervisors on groundwater issues, but it has taken an interest in the river flow proposal, too. The 20-member panel, which has numerous farmers, will hear Wednesday from Leslie Grober, deputy director for water rights at the state board.

He told reporters on Sept. 15 that February-June flows have often dropped to less than 20 percent of natural conditions.

“Scientific studies show that flow is a major factor in the survival of fish like salmon,” Grober said. He added that water temperature, river barriers and other nonflow issues are involved, too.

The public has until Nov. 15 to comment on the river plan, including a Nov. 4 hearing in Modesto. The state board could vote on it in early 2017.

John Holland: 209-578-2385