State Issues

Felicia’s fish are just red herrings; we know the real objective

Felicia Marcus spoke at a water symposium sponsored by The Bee and the City of Modesto in 2015.
Felicia Marcus spoke at a water symposium sponsored by The Bee and the City of Modesto in 2015.

In a recent letter to The Sacramento Bee, Felicia Marcus, Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, wrote “hundreds of thousands of Californians lack access to clean water for drinking, bathing, and cooking.” She goes on to say that it is her “job to champion the concerns of ordinary Californians and deliver life’s basic necessities.”

She has failed.

As chair of the state’s primary water regulatory body, Marcus oversees a staff of thousands and a budget of over $1 billion each year. Despite her promises to the contrary, she and her board have used their immense authority to jeopardize – not protect – the economy and drinking water supplies of the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

Marcus and the State Water Resources Control Board are finalizing plans to double the amount of water they take from communities in Merced, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. Instead of being used for drinking water and farmland irrigation, the board wants the water to flow out into the Pacific Ocean.


Because without our water Gov. Jerry Brown’s twin tunnels project – designed to ship billions of gallons of water south each year – is dead on arrival. It is no coincidence that the amount of water the board want from us happens to match the amount expected to be diverted south thr1ough the tunnels. It is also no surprise that despite initially rejecting financial agreements to fund the construction of the twin tunnels, Los Angeles and Bay Area water agencies finally agreed to pay up – but only after their favorite water storage projects were 100 percent funded through the Prop 1 Water Bonds. A project to create additional storage, Temperance Flat, got almost no bond funding.

The State Water Board claims it needs the water to help restore fish populations, but an earlier version of their own report suggested their plan would result in little more than an additional 1,000 fish per year.

After significant public criticism, the latest version of the report openly questions the validity of its own findings and suggests the benefits to fish are much greater while offering no evidence to support that claim.

Excuse the pun, but fish are just a red herring.

No good water plan trades benefits for one user at the expense of another.

Irrigation districts in Merced, Turlock and Modesto have all proposed responsible alternatives that call for a combination of increased water flows, habitat restoration and predation controls. Unsurprisingly, the State Water Board has rejected those proposals out of hand while continuing to preach a preference for voluntary settlements.

The truth is, the board will never be happy until it gets our water – no matter the consequence to our economy or our drinking water supplies.

If there is a reasonable deal to be reached, I will support it. But right now this is nothing more than another state-supported water grab.

We will continue to fight for our region and our water using every available avenue.

I am hosting a rally on the north steps of the State Capitol on Monday, Aug. 20th and hope you will join me in standing up against this water grab.

Adam Gray represents the 21st Assembly District, which includes Merced and part of Stanislaus counties. He wrote this for the Merced Sun-Star.