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Premo’s proposal: Pit salmon welfare against land-based endangered species

POSTED April 19, 2013 10:14 p.m.

Ever since the State Water Resources Control Board weighed a proposal that would negatively impact the region’s water supply, agriculture operations and economy, members of the Central Valley have rallied together to protect the precious resource.

According to the SWRCB’s Substitute Environmental Document, the proposal attempts to take 35 percent of unimpaired flows along the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus Rivers from Feb. 1 to June 30 annually in order to benefit endangered fish and wildlife.

Turlock Irrigation District land owner and Ceres native April Premo journeyed with other concerned citizens to Sacramento to hear the two day debate about the proposal, and has been in contact with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission during its meetings to discuss additional problems that may arise due to a decrease in water supply if the proposal were to pass.

As a former member of the Sierra Club, Premo has been involved in endangered species debates, and found that the Water Board’s reasoning cannot be fully supported if more than one species is at risk.

Premo reviewed letters and documents from West Patterson’s Master Development Plan and the Almond 2 Power Plant Project in northern San Joaquin Valley, and found that both the kit fox and the Swainson hawk were listed as at-risk, endangered animals.

“This issue tears the Sierra Club up. I’ve talked with three club members, and they are upset that the proposal doesn’t take into account other animals,” said Premo.

If the SWRCB’s Substitute Environmental Document passes, an estimated 210,000 acres of farmland would fallow due to the sacrifice of 300,000 acre-feet of water annually.

“If we are going to worry about the salmon, we need to worry about the other animals that are out there too,” said Premo. “It really isn’t fair to just look at one species, let them die out, and save another. Who are we to say who should live or die?”

Premo raised these concerns at Tuesday morning’s TID Board meeting, and hopes to influence others in the region to stand up to the State Water Board.

“If you are going to get into the game and get your water, you have to play at their level,” said Premo to the Board. “They are asking you for water, but you are not saying ‘Hey, look! We have endangered habitat on our side, too.’ I haven’t heard that from anybody.

“I’ve been in the Sierra Club for 23 years. The only way you are going to win this war is when they say ‘We want it for the salmon,’ you say ‘We want it for the kit fox.’ When they say ‘We want it for the sturgeon,’ you say ‘We want it for the Swainson hawk.’”

 “I think April brings up a good perspective…that the eco-model will change if there is less surface water available for our farmers to irrigate,” said TID Director and local veterinarian Rob Santos. “We could have to fallow productive farm ground which would change the food web which would affect all birds, reptiles and animals…endangered or not.”

The Board of Directors found her evidence to be interesting, but believed there is a larger picture at stake, namely how the proposal would affect the county’s economy and agriculture.

“I personally think her argument is good, but it is just one part of the equation,” said Santos.

Regardless, Premo is not deterred in arguing her point. She has credited TID’s involvement in helping her acquire environmental documents, and states that she is still attempting to motivate people in the Central Valley to join her cause.

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