Community Columns

State’s current plan for river flows spells disaster for our region

The Stanislaus River as it flows past Ripon.
The Stanislaus River as it flows past Ripon. The Modesto Bee

The mission of the State Water Resources Control Board is to balance water allocation and water quality protection for California.

With its latest flows proposal for the San Joaquin River tributaries, the SWRCB does neither and is clearly promoting the governor’s Twin Tunnels project.

Even though the SWRCB cites the need for increased river flows to “improve aquatic ecosystems,” their actions reveal the true intention – which is to move additional water through the damaged Delta to facilitate the export of billions of gallons of water south.

Recent hearings drew thousands and have galvanized the scores of people who provided testimony and were united in the opposition to the SWRCB’s revised Substitute Environmental Document (SED) for the Delta Water Quality Control Plan. If implemented, the SED would require that 40 percent or more of the natural flows remain in the Stanislaus, Merced and Tuolumne rivers for ecosystem purposes, rather than be beneficially used for agricultural, industrial or municipal uses in our communities.

County interests, farmers, local water and irrigation districts and Delta stakeholders are among those who have made passionate pleas, explaining why the plan fails on multiple levels and runs counter to the mission of the SWRCB:

▪ The SED Won’t Ensure Increased Fish Populations – The SWRCB’s representatives suggest the SED’s approach is necessary because local counties don’t care about the ecology and that we place farmers above fish. Wrong!

San Joaquin County and nearby counties support increasing water supplies statewide to ensure there is enough water for fish, farms and communities. We acknowledge that more water could be beneficial to fish populations. But the SED should also examine the peer-reviewed science to identify biological objectives for fish that can be successfully met. We can then put the responsibility squarely on the true cause of fish population decline before turning to our communities, which have been responsibly addressing fish needs and lawfully irrigating from the Stanislaus River and the Delta for over a century.

▪ The SED Could Result in Economic Devastation – The state claims as many as 250,000 acres could be fallowed each year and underestimates the region’s economic loss by putting it at approximately $64 million. In reality, the Central Valley would lose billions of dollars in revenue in addition to experiencing higher unemployment, reduced property values, harm to economically disadvantaged communities and workers, and permanent salt accumulation on prime agricultural land.

The loss of more water from our rivers and tributaries also means less groundwater recharge and more pumping, making it increasingly difficult to comply with the State’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which passed in 2014 but won’t be fully implemented for several years.

▪ The SED Runs Counter to the Law – Water Code section 11460 states that no water shall be diverted for export unless all the needs of the Delta watersheds are met, including irrigation, municipal, industrial and fish and wildlife. The SWRCB’s current proposal is in direct violation of state law.

The State has historically ignored input related to the Delta, and the responsibility is on us to demonstrate the will of the people, the science, historical references and existing law to prove that this latest attempt to drain us of our most precious resource must be shelved.

We must make our state regulators hear us loud and clear: The current flows plan and corresponding Twin Tunnels project are unjustifiable and will spell disaster for our region.

In the meantime, San Joaquin County will partner with Stanislaus and Merced counties – and every other county in California – to continue to engage diverse stakeholders in actively promoting comprehensive statewide water solutions such as additional storage that enhance the health of the Delta and do not pit one part of the State against another. Unlike the SED and Twin Tunnels proposals, we want to help develop a water plan that holds true to the SWRCB mission: balancing water quality and allocation throughout California.

Chuck Winn represents San Joaquin County’s 4th supervisorial district which includes Escalon and Ripon; Katherine Miller respresents the 2nd District, which is in north Stockton.