MORE REACTIONS: Reclamation, Feinstein, Costa, Gray, and MID react to voluntary agreements and State Water Board vote on San Joaquin River tributary flow standards
From the Bureau of Reclamation:
Statement from Brenda Burman, Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation:
I am very proud of the accomplishments we have made with the state and with our partners on the framework for voluntary agreements to address water flow issues in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Basins. I am also extremely pleased that we were able to reach agreement with the state on an addendum to the Coordinated Operation Agreement that lays the groundwork for improved water management in California for the next generation.
Unfortunately, the State Water Resources Control Board chose to move forward with Phase I of its water quality control plan update. We have consistently opposed this approach. It appears the State Board has left room for future consideration of the voluntary agreements, and we are working to fully analyze the impact the State Board action has on our federal projects.
I am optimistic about the future, and we will continue to work with our partners at the California Department of Water Resources as well as the State Board and our stakeholders to advance reasonable water management solutions for our contractors that meet the needs of California’s farms, families, industries and environmental resources.
From Congressman Jim Costa:
Congressman Jim Costa (CA-16) issued the following statement after the California State Water Resources Control Board voted to adopt amendments to the Bay-Delta plan that will direct more water from the Merced, Tuolumne, and Stanislaus Rivers to the ocean:
“It is my fear that the vote by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) will only further inflame the conflict over California‘s most precious natural resource: its water. I will use every tool at my disposal to protect the communities I represent from this water grab.
“The action taken by the SWRCB is incredibly frustrating. This was a missed opportunity to reset the water wars of the past and to find a better path forward by delaying adoption of the staff proposal to allow continued negotiations to occur on the Merced and Stanislaus rivers.
“Instead of adopting the staff proposal, I believe that a negotiated solution for both the San Joaquin and the Sacramento watersheds would have been reached – one that would lead to real improvements for California’s fisheries, such as improved habitat, better predator control, and functional flows. Instead, the Board refused to provide additional time and chose to adopt the staff’s proposal – a proposal that doubles down on the failed policies of the past and brings harm to San Joaquin Valley communities and to California’s agricultural economy.
“I commend the U.S. Department of the Interior, the California Department of Water Resources, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the many water users for their herculean efforts to negotiate a balanced solution. If allowed to take place, in my opinion, it would improve fishery outcomes without unnecessarily harming Valley communities. Sadly, the Board failed to provide time to finalize this balanced compromise.
“In light of the voluntary agreements that were reached which increase outflow standards, it is essential that Congress act now to extend the WIIN Act with authorization for the Secretary of the Interior to collect funds to implement these voluntary agreements.”
From Senator Dianne Feinstein:
“The California water board has before it a Tuolumne River voluntary settlement agreement. I urge the board to take the time necessary to fully evaluate this agreement’s potential advantages. The combination of additional flows with more habitat restoration is very attractive. If it’s a way to restore salmon on the Tuolumne River, then it needs to be carefully studied.
“Environmental flows alone cannot solve the problem. We’re still seeing nearly 100 percent mortality for salmon smolts migrating out of the San Joaquin River through the Delta. So it’s time to evaluate all approaches and pick the one that best serves all purposes.
“The voluntary settlement avoids severe cuts in Bay Area water—up to 50 percent—that could have triggered during a lengthy drought under the water board’s original proposal. It appears this agreement strikes the right balance between competing uses, and I look forward to its further evaluation.”
From Assemblyman Adam Gray:
Assemblymember Adam C. Gray (D-Merced) released the following statement after the State Water Resources Control Board voted to adopt proposed amendments to the Bay-Delta Plan:
“This plan is dangerous. It fails to protect people, it fails to protect the environment, and it fails to justify destroying thousands of jobs in one of the highest unemployment areas of the state. Despite the legitimate and comprehensive alternatives put forward by our local irrigation districts, the Water Board shoved their fingers in their ears and adopted their plan as is.Board Member D’Adamo did a yeoman’s job breaking down the issue and offered up real solutions. But her efforts were in vain.The Water Board had a clear choice to make tonight. They could have embraced settlement agreements and secured real tangible improvements for fish and habitat within less than a year. Instead they chose to adopt their disastrous plan and guaranteed a decade’s worth of litigation.We will see you in court.”
From Merced Irrigation District:
“Every resident in California should be concerned. If the state succeeds in setting this legal precedent on our backs in the disadvantaged San Joaquin Valley, this can happen to any community in the State of California,” said John Sweigard, General Manager of Merced Irrigation District.
The long-expected vote Wednesday by the State Water Resources Control Board solidifies the state’s intent to take up to 50 percent of eastern Merced County’s water supply and send it north to the Bay Delta. The Bay Delta serves as the state’s water hub providing vast amounts of water to communities throughout the Bay Area, and Central and Southern California.
“The State has ignored thousands of pages of science and data that counter the Bay Delta SED plan. The state’s plan will fail to meet its own objectives of improving salmon numbers. And in its failing, it will cause irreversible devastation to our local water supply, water quality and economy,” said MID’s Sweigard.
The State Water Board is comprised of five members appointed by the Governor of California and its staff. The State Water Board staff proposed the Bay Delta SED several years ago for the purported benefit of improving salmon populations.
Merced Irrigation District owns and operates Lake McClure. The reservoir is located in the Sierra Nevada foothills: it provides local water supply, flood control, hydroelectric generation and water for the local environment and wildlife preserves.
Backed by scientific and biological studies, MID has repeatedly stated that simply diverting more water away from eastern Merced County will not support salmon.
Most of the historical, natural floodplain habitat around the Bay Delta and Merced River has been reclaimed and converted to farms and cities. Significant parts of the waterways flowing to the Bay Delta have also been altered by human activity causing loss of floodplain habitat for salmon rearing. At the same time, juvenile salmon are subject to predation in the rivers and in the Delta by non-native predatory bass: in fact, juvenile salmon from the Merced River hatchery are currently transported in trucks around the Merced and San Joaquin Rivers, and most of the Delta, to avoid predation.
For years, Merced Irrigation District has sought to support the state’s objectives of improving salmon populations on the Merced River through a reasonable settlement proposal. In 2016, the Merced River S.A.F.E. Plan (Salmon, Agriculture, Flows, and Environment) was unveiled by MID. This would have:
- Provided immediate increased flows on the Merced River during key salmon lifecycle times.
- Restored 5.5 miles of salmon-rearing habitat – destroyed decades ago by dredge mining – on the Merced River, near Snelling.
- Addressed predation from non-native bass.
- Made investments in the Merced River Salmon Hatchery to increase production.
“MID staff, our biologists, and our community have supported efforts to address the salmon lifecycle locally on the Merced River within our region. However, it is absolutely unreasonable to demand our community’s water supply be diverted for the benefit of others as part of a misguided attempt to mitigate environmental problems created by others three counties away,” said MID’s Sweigard.
“MID is willing to participate in a reasonable comprehensive salmon improvement program – which includes additional, logical amounts of water in the Merced River. However, our District and our community are prepared to fight as long and as hard as is necessary to protect our community’s water supply.”
The State Water Board has held one local, public meeting in Merced to discuss the Bay Delta SED. That was a one-day hearing less than a week before Christmas in 2016.
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