The State Water Resources Control Board issued its first proposal to redirect water from our local rivers to the ocean nearly a decade ago. Now, the board is back with a final draft order that would dramatically reduce water that can be used for cities and farms to grow and thrive.
Water is the foundation of the San Joaquin Valley’s economy. Availability of water determines our farmers’ ability to borrow the money necessary to grow the crops and pay the bills. No water, no money, no crops. It’s that simple. The effects cascade through the economy from there.
The water board claims it is balancing the needs of the environment and the economy. However, their review of the real-world human impacts is so narrow that it challenges the logic of the overall proposal. Their decision will back up the clock to a time when California did not have to worry about feeding 39 million people.
The result will be to take at least 40 percent – often much more – of the water flowing in the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced Rivers and send it downstream in the hope it will expand fish populations currently suffering from predation, lack of food, rising water temperatures and other stressors other than any lack of water.
Economic damages to San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties are significant, admits the state, but merely “unavoidable consequences.” And facts about the human toll don’t appear to matter:
Unemployment – There will be more unemployed citizens as agriculture and related employers reduce or close their businesses in our three counties. Many employers are already worn down from ever-expanding regulations.
Homelessness – We can’t meet our current challenges. The number of people living on the streets of each community will grow. Public assistance demands will grow as well, and local resources will be further strained.
Groundwater Management – This proposal is on top of a law passed in 2014 to sustain groundwater at current levels. At the same time we face losing an additional 20 to 30 percent of the clean water that has served our area for 130 years, 1 million residents of our region will be dealing with degraded groundwater availability and quality. Soon, we could see subsidence as the ground gives way.
These and many more facts were brought to the water board’s attention as public officials, farmers, business owners and many others testified at hearings. It does not appear any of their thousands of comments made a difference. Our voices were not heard; the facts were ignored.
If the state water board approves this 40 percent water reduction – which its chairwoman has already vigorously defended – their actions will fundamentally change the place we live and raise our families.
To have this damage to our lives written off as an “unavoidable consequence” does not promote confidence in the people serving on this board.
Family farming and food processing support the economy of our area. My job is to help ag and ag-related businesses grow, as we have done for over 100 years. The well-being of our local communities will not continue with so little water.
Leonard Van Elderen is President and CEO of Yosemite Farm Credit