State Issues

Assemblyman Adam Gray: Our water future is at a critical crossroads

The Merced River flows through Snelling.
The Merced River flows through Snelling. Merced Sun-Star file

Arguments between local governments and individual farmers over the sale, transfer and local use of water are all too familiar.

Some water districts oppose efforts to transfer water out of basins or across county lines. Some irrigation districts oppose city plans to sell wastewater to other irrigation districts. But regardless of where you stand on these specific disputes, all of us in the Valley must work in unity to confront the single largest threat to our economy, farms and way of life.

The state of California has proposed a staggering increase in the unimpaired flows from the Tuolumne, Merced and Stanislaus rivers. In effect, the state’s current plan would divert more than 350,000 acre-feet of water away from irrigation every year during months when water supplies are most essential for irrigation. It is as if the State Water Resources Control Board holds these three tributaries responsible for the health of the entire Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

This water take is completely unprecedented in its scope, and is inexplicable at a time when we are suffering from the worst drought in California’s recorded history. The Central Valley has already lost more than $2 billion in economic productivity, and 17,100 people have lost their jobs. This is not to mention the other problems associated with the drought, such as land subsidence of over a foot annually from groundwater pumping.

California passed a law last year mandating the development of sustainable groundwater management plans, and yet the state has proposed implementing a plan that it fully recognizes will have “significant but unavoidable” negative impacts on our ability to achieve sustainable groundwater basins.

These are not idle threats, and there are no signs the state is prepared to give up this ludicrous scheme. The state has spent millions on its effort to update the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. This proposal has already been submitted for public review, and the second revision is due to be released soon.

Our area does not have many allies in this fight. People north of Sacramento are in Stage Two of this process, and it will be many years before the water board turns its eyes north. South of Merced is exempt from this process, and there has been no discussion of lessening the water pumped south from the Delta to Southern California’s cities and fields. In fact, the Delta plan emphasizes no reduction in flows.

Statewide and national environmental groups have actually criticized the plan, not because it takes too much water but because it takes too little. They are demanding a 60 percent increase in the flows and have spent tremendous resources to lobby for their side.

We have a responsibility to tell the other side of the story.

This is wrongheaded, unscientific and counterproductive to solving our state’s water problems. While other regions of the state shoulder none of this burden, our communities will be devastated economically. We will see our agricultural industry and hundreds of thousands of our residents denied access to water stored in the dams built by people who live here.

I have introduced AB 1242, which would require the State Water Resources Control Board to fully mitigate the impact of any increase in unimpaired flows from the Merced, Stanislaus or Tuolumne rivers.

This will be an uphill fight, but we must begin to make the case to others outside our area. Please support this measure!

Your letters will be made part of the record and can help demonstrate how seriously this plan would impact our areas.

Send your letters to: Assemblyman Adam Gray, P.O. Box 942849, State Capitol, Sacramento, CA, 94249-0021

Gray, D-Merced, represents California’s 21st Assembly District, which includes all of Merced County and parts of Stanislaus County.