On Monday and Tuesday, the residents of Merced and Stanislaus counties have a chance to tell the State Water Resources Control Board our reactions and comments to their proposal to increase the unimpaired flows of the Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers to 40 percent.
In effect, this amounts to sending an additional 300,000 acre-feet of water from our reservoirs down the rivers each and every year. That water would not be available for domestic or agricultural use, and would not recharge the aquifers upon which we all depend for drinking water. In the words of the water board, it would create a permanent regulatory drought in our area.
Much has been said about this issue over the last four years. I want to present a different idea for consideration.
The water board contends this water take is necessary to help our fisheries recover, particularly the salmon population. In addition, the board contends it will have a beneficial impact on Delta water quality and quantity.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Modesto Bee
I have not met anyone in our area who opposes working to restore the fisheries or to address the Delta’s challenges. However, many of us question the science, the transparency and the process the water board has used to derive this report and its recommendations. We do not appreciate the fact that the water board would leave us with all the costs of mitigating the damages their proposal would cause.
Most scientists will tell you that restoration of fisheries requires more flow at certain times. However, most scientists will tell you that restoration of fisheries also requires habitat restoration and predator suppression, which the water board has ignored.
That is the fundamental flaw with the board’s plan. It attempts to address our water challenges with a single approach, increasing flows, without tying a flow increase to required habitat restoration and predator suppression as part of the same document.
If we continue to address our water problems in silos, we will never make progress.
Over the last few years, I have been fighting for a comprehensive approach. Two years ago, Valley legislators sought to have the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act amended to include the use of surface water to recharge the aquifers as a beneficial use. The bill’s sponsors refused to accept the amendment. Every Valley legislator – in the Senate and the Assembly, Democrat and Republican – opposed the bill. Last year, I carried a bill, AB 1242, which would have mandated that the state mitigate the impact of the flow increases upon the groundwater that we all depend on for our drinking water. The water board did not support the bill and it failed.
We need to agree on common goals and develop a comprehensive approach to solving the water problems we face.
We want to restore the fisheries and the Delta without wreaking economic devastation on our region, or any other region.
We know we need more water storage, which is why we so heavily supported the state water bonds in 2014. We need to implement the public will and make more water storage a reality.
We know the proposed flow increases will have significant and long-term impacts on our groundwater, our drinking water and our economy. This must be mitigated and mitigation should be included in the state’s plan.
Flow increases, predator suppression efforts, habitat restoration and mitigation measures like groundwater recharge should occur together. The water board’s report should clearly state that no single method will be triggered in the absence of the others.
If state legislation were required to enforce such a trigger, I am sure it could be successful – especially if the administration and our local jurisdictions were in agreement. As we have seen with the Merced Irrigation District’s Merced River SAFE Plan, our local jurisdictions are already leading the way by proposing comprehensive alternatives to the water board’s plan.
We must rebuild our rivers and groundwater aquifers, rebuild our water infrastructure, and rebuild our economy. We all agree on these three goals, but only when they are done together and in unison. A comprehensive approach would address the issues we all want solved and would force all parties to act in good faith, a quality that many believe is in short supply in the water board’s current proposal.
Join me by attending the upcoming hearings and making your voice heard.
Adam Gray represents the 21st Assembly District, which includes Merced and part of Stanislaus counties.