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Valley voices heard by State Water Board
• Unimpaired flows vote postponed
water rally 5.jpg
State Assemblyman Heath Flora was one of the many lawmakers to join the rally opposing the State Water Board’s plan to reallocate Valley water. - photo by Contributed

After witnessing hundreds rally at the state Capitol, receiving thousands of written comments and hearing hours of testimony from farmers, laborers, students, citizens and even lawmakers who opposed their plan that would cut local water use for the benefit of fish and wildlife, the State Water Resources Control Board has postponed its critical vote on the proposal. 

Despite vehement opposition from a broad coalition of local governments and organizations, the water board in July released its third and final draft of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan update, which calls for allocation of 40 percent of unimpaired flows along the lower San Joaquin River and its tributaries — the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers — to help rehabilitate the area’s native fish species.

The plan is the result of a nine-year process that has been met with resistance from water stakeholders and their elected officials every step of the way, with many famers and local water agencies feeling as if the board has indeed waged a water war on the San Joaquin Valley.

When the first draft of the plan was released in September 2016, hundreds of legislators, water and agricultural leaders, agency representatives and community members addressed the Board three months later in Modesto, sharing the potential impacts the water decision could have on both farmers and the community at large.

On Monday, they once again made their voices heard.

Ahead of the Board’s Aug. 21-22 hearing where they planned to vote on the widely-contested proposal, a water rally spearheaded by Assemblyman Adam Gray drew over 1,000 people to the north steps of the State Capitol to plead their case.

“We stand to lose $1.6 billion and over 6,000 jobs in my community alone."
State Assemblyman Adam Gray.

“We stand to lose $1.6 billion and over 6,000 jobs in my community alone,” Gray told the crowd gathered at the rally. “For the past six years I have repeatedly called on the water board to listen to our concerns. They have refused. Today, our community has come to the steps of the state capitol to make sure our voices are heard loud and clear.

“We are here today to let the governor know, to let the State Water Board know, that we deserve better.”

Along with Gray, representatives like Congressman Jeff Denham, Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth and Stanislaus County Supervisor Kristin Olsen were in attendance as well.

“We are standing in unity to tell the state, ‘Don’t steal our water,’” said Olsen. “Republicans and Democrats, environmentalists and farmers, cities, counties, young and old, we are here, as I said, in unity to say, ‘Don’t devastate our economy, our environment, our rivers.’”

In addition to the rally on Monday, countless community members spoke during the Board’s hearing on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the Board seems to have listened.

The board in a release on Wednesday stated that they recognized “the complexity and sensitivity” of its vote and has postponed the decision until Nov. 7, citing the public outreach and comment period as one of the most extensive in State Water Board history. The board said it hopes to eventually settle on a voluntary agreement with water stakeholders.

“Throughout the last two years, board members and staff have repeatedly emphasized that voluntary settlement agreements can provide a faster, more durable solution to reasonably protect beneficial uses in the Lower San Joaquin River and its tributaries…” said Board Chair Felicia Marcus. “Voluntary settlement agreements present the opportunity to make the non-flow elements more concrete and reduce the potential water supply impact.”