A state plan to take more water from local reservoirs and flush it down the river – thereby denying use for farming and cities – was met with opposition by the Ceres City Council last week.
The four present council members voted for a resolution condemning the State Water Resources Control Board’s Bay-Delta Plan and its Draft Substitute Environmental Document (SED) which call for the drastic water grab, which has been universally condemned by local elected officials.
The plan would affect how much water is released from the Don Pedro Reservoir dam on the Tuolumne River, the New Melones dam on the Stanislaus River and the McClure Dam on the Merced River.
The city resolution notes the loss of hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of river water would result in the fallowing of some of the most prime farmland. It also noted that if the state plan had been in effect in 2015, in addition to already-incurred impacts from the fourth year of a drought, the economic impacts would have included $1.6 billion in economic output loss, $167 million farm-gate revenue loss, $330 million in labor income loss, and 6,576 jobs would have been lost, in the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts alone.
The Bay-Delta Plan could also adversely impact plans of the cities of Ceres and Turlock to build a surface water plant and delivery system that uses water drawn from the Tuolumne River at Fox Grove.
Josh Weimer, a legislative analyst with the Turlock Irrigation District, spoke to the council said the state agency came out with the plan in 2012 and calling for 35 percent unimpaired flows down the river and ultimately to the Delta for fish habitat purposes. He said the community rallied against the “very flawed” plan while the board came back with a water grab of 40 percent.
He said Turlock and Modesto irrigation districts conducted an education campaign and generated over 7,000 comments against the plan with 3,000 from cities and businesses.
“There were four public hearings, over 40 hours of public testimony and the state took all that information and a year and a half later, came out of July 6 of this year and essentially changed nothing in the document,” said Weimer. “Unfortunately they didn’t care.”
Weimer said TID is trying to rally a coalition of cities to go to Sacramento on Aug. 21-22 to voice opposition to the plan.
“Let them know how this is going to impact the area,” Weimer told the council.
He said state officials have a “huge misconception” that the plan is needed “because farmers and growers are taking too much water out of the system.”
“This is going to impact way more than just growers. “This is going to impact our cities, our junior water customers, our schools, our businesses.”Josh Weimer, TID representative
“This is going to impact way more than just growers,” said Weimer. “This is going to impact our cities, our junior water customers, our schools, our businesses.”
He noted that the state will only accept testimony on new or redacted eight pages of the 3,500-page document.
TID and TID are filing an amended license application to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which licenses an agency’s ability to run a dam and power generation facility. It offers what Weimer calls “better science, better solutions” to resolve the matter of fish preservation.
“If the state really cares about the fish and about improving the habitat, then they will use our plan. Our plan produces the environment where fish can thrive in the river at substantially less impact to water customers.”
It’s unknown if the water board will try to pass the plan this month or next.
He criticized the plan by not considering what happens to the region in drought years.
“If this plan was in place in 2015, TID would have provided zero inches to our growers – the first time ever,” said Weimer.
He said 2017 was a wet year in which 4 million acre-feet were flushed out of Don Pedro which was much higher than 40 percent released.
“They only look at dry years for unimpaired flow.”
The worst part of the plan, he said, is what is called a “cold water carryover storage requirement” which requires districts to not use 800,000 acre-feet, or half, of the water in Don Pedro Reservoir “which removes the entire reason that Don Pedro was built.”
Weimer said the state has no rights to the water contained by a facility that was jointly built by TID and MID.
From noon to 2 p.m. on Aug. 20 a coalition of county supervisors, state legislators and others are holding a rally outside the State Capitol. Assemblyman Adam Gray is spearheading the effort.
“His ultimate goal is to pack the Capitol, show people this impacts people up and down the state,” said Weimer.
City Attorney Tom Hallinan said he couldn’t prove it in court but he said supports of the Bay-Delta plan frame the argument as farmers versus fish “when they completely and utterly refuse to acknowledge a scintilla of the science we’ve presented. The only logical implication to me is that this water is really intended to source the Twin Tunnels.”
County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, a Westport area farmer, said the plan is the most important issue facing the area.
“The Water Resources Board has ignored all science,” said DeMartini. “Irrigation districts have done about 35 studies. There has been hundreds of people testify … they’ve ignored all of it.”
“The theft of this water will affect all of us. If you drink water or have any property, you’re going to be affected.”
He charged the members of the state board of being unfamiliar with farming and only environmentalists.
“Their goal there is just to steal the water,” said DeMartini. “That’s what it is – it’s the theft of water from a privately owned dam.”
He said 97 percent of the salmon who make their way downstream out to the Bay get eaten up by striped bass, which are not native.
“The salmon are really not the issue here – they are the excuse to steal the water.”