On behalf of the Turlock Irrigation District, I would like to sincerely thank all who attended the State Water Resources Control Board’s public hearings in Stockton, Merced and Modesto regarding the state’s harmful unimpaired-flow proposal.
After several hours of public comment from concerned citizens, numerous presentations from local organizations and bold words from elected officials, the state water board surely knows our region is passionate about water.
Perhaps more important, the state water board heard that local water agencies have legitimate solutions to solve the problems the state water board wants to address. They heard with repetition that there’s a better way to manage rivers that does not recklessly focus on flows alone.
Now, after Tuesday’s final public hearing in Sacramento, our region waits to see if the state water board incorporates our comments, oral and written, into its final flow proposal.
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As the TID continues to analyze the proposal, also known as the Phase 1 Revised Substitute Environmental Document of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan, we’re learning more about the state water board’s product.
You’ve already heard about the impacts of such a dramatic increase of in-stream flows to the Tuolumne River, as proposed in the SED. The proposal, however, is much worse than requiring from 30 to 50 percent more water to flow every year from Don Pedro Reservoir into the Tuolumne River.
First, the water board’s staff proposal includes a starting point of a 40 percent increase in unimpaired flows on the Tuolumne, Merced and Stanislaus rivers every year from February through June. One analysis we performed indicates that if the SED were in place from 1990 to 2015, TID would have been able to deliver a full amount of available water in only five of those 26 years. During both the 2014 and 2015 irrigation seasons – using the SED criteria – our farmers would have received zero water.
Second, on top of devastating our community by demanding 40 percent of unimpaired flows, the state is proposing to take control of Don Pedro Reservoir by requiring an annual carryover storage requirement. Come each September, before the irrigation season finishes, approximately 50 percent of Don Pedro’s available water would be required to be held back. Don Pedro was built by our community to allow our region to survive a prolonged drought like the current one. But the SED removes our ability to do so.
Third, the SED relies on out-of-date science; all for its stated purpose of providing reasonable protection of fish and wildlife. However, the SED’s own analysis of the production of fall-run Chinook salmon shows an average increase of 1,103 fish annually. For such a small tangible increase in fish, we think that amount of water is neither reasonable nor beneficial.
Fourth, recent science conducted on the Tuolumne River is conveniently absent from the SED. The Turlock and Modesto irrigation districts have spent more than $25 million over the past few years to develop the most focused, most recent, most collaborative science on the river. The results of these studies tell a different story and provide different solutions than the narrative assembled by the state water board’s SED.
Fifth, the SED is void of any consecutive dry-year relief during droughts and fails to note that putting the proposed amounts of water in the rivers in February or June might actually be harmful to fish. Let’s not forget most salmon – up to 98 percent in some years – are eaten by non-native predatory species such as bass before they exit the Tuolumne.
Finally, the SED harms the nearly two-year effort by our local water agencies who are diligently working to achieve the state-mandated groundwater sustainability goals outlined in the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014. If implemented, the SED will be the direct cause of groundwater reduction in our region, making it nearly impossible to achieve groundwater sustainability.
We must not let up. We all should continue to share with the water board how this harmful proposal will impact your businesses, your communities and your families. Help us tell the state there’s a better way to balance a healthy economy and a healthy ecosystem.
Casey Hashimoto is general manager of the Turlock Irrigation District. He wrote this for The Modesto Bee.