If state is serious about our water, we won’t suffer

Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, at work.
Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, at work. AP

If state water regulators are sincere about improving the plight of salmon on our rivers, Assemblyman Adam Gray has a suggestion for them.

First acknowledge the people living here “can’t be net losers,” then ask for the water.

The state should explain how we’ll be able to give up twice as much water to environmental purposes without devastating local businesses. Tell us how the state will make good on the billions we’ve invested in water infrastructure that belongs to all the residents of Turlock, Modesto, Merced, Oakdale and Manteca. Assure us our factories, fields and homes won’t be devalued by the resulting economic losses.

If the state can do that, people living here might be more willing to listen to the state’s concerns over salmon, steelhead trout and river habitat.

Unfortunately, Gray knows the state would never make such guarantees.

When the State Water Resources Control Board issued its final plan for the Tuolumne, Stanislaus and Merced rivers last week, it noted there would be “unavoidable” losses to our region. Sort of like saying, “It’s tough to be you.”

Such disregard for the well-being of people here has sparked “public outrage,” said Gray, and that’s going to be hard to overcome. But he said we should try. He called both the state’s position and our region’s “a couple of poker hands that don’t look too good,” saying that’s the “very reason to sit down and work out a compromise.”

The real issue, he said, is money. “There are solutions, but all the good solutions cost money.”

What does a good solution look like? Progress on all fronts, said Gray – “conservation, storage, flows. But the real issues that the state must acknowledge is that we can’t be a net loser in this.”

The legislature is a recess, and Gray came by The Bee to talk about water and topics less contentious.

He’s proud of his work to create an adjunct “rainy day fund,” for instance. The one created by a ballot measure is capped at $13.5 billion; the legislature’s version would create a parallel fund that could go higher. The Legislative Analysts Office estimates a mild recession could devour the entire fund; a medium-size recession could reduce revenues by $40 billion. It’s important to have reserves.

Part of the reason is that California is too dependent on high-income earners; Gray is hoping to be part of a serious discussion on tax reform.

Gray is also happy with the additional money coming into the region to address homelessness in both Merced and Stanislaus counties. Merced County, in particular, is going to be able to build 30 units of housing for those in need. And there is likely to be money to help Stanislaus set up some sort of “navigation center” as part of a low-barrier shelter if our local officials can figure out a way to get it built.

On the topic of sports wagering, which has essentially been OK’d by the Supreme Court, Gray doesn’t expect much this year: “It has to be on the ballot, and the soonest it could happen is 2020.” If the legislature doesn’t take it up, he said plenty of others are willing to put an independent initiative in front of voters.

SPEAKING OF the state’s plan for our region’s water, it was good to see the Modesto City Council join the fight. Councilman Mani Grewal’s motion noted the cost to our region without any commitment to provide a viable alternative. Other cities should follow his lead.

Mike Dunbar is the editor of The Modesto Bee Editorial Pages. 209 578-2325 or mdunbar@modbee.com