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State Water Board reschedules public hearings on flow proposal

POSTED October 20, 2016 6:53 p.m.

The State Water Resources Control Board this week rescheduled public hearings to receive input on a proposal to allocate 40 percent of unimpaired flows along the Tuolumne River for fish and wildlife.


Beginning in November and concluding in January, there will be five public hearings in Sacramento, Stockton, Merced and Modesto.


“Right now we’re in the middle of a water war,” said Stanislaus County Board Supervisor Vito Chiesa. “This is the single greatest threat to the economic viability here in Stanislaus County. Everyone needs to be engaged.”


On Sept. 15, the State Water Board released its Substitute Environmental Document for public review and comment. At more than 3,500 pages, this controversial document was given to the public for a 60-day comment period.


The Phase 1 draft SED was originally issued by the State Water Board in December 2012. Public workshops were held in March 2013 and comments were submitted at the end of the month.


As detailed in the revised draft, which was released more than three years later, the State Water Board proposes increasing flows to provide habitats for fish and wildlife upstream of the Delta from Feb. 1 to June 30 from three tributaries of the lower San Joaquin River and adjusting the salinity requirements to a slightly high level to reflect updated scientific knowledge and protect farming in the Southern Delta.


While the original 2012 document called for a 35 percent release of unimpaired flows, the revised document now calls for a 40 percent release.


Representatives from the State Water Board attended County Board of Supervisors meetings in Modesto and Merced Tuesday to present the proposal and answer questions from the Board–meetings that Chiesa said were long overdue.


“I’m pleased that we finally had an audience with these folks after asking them to come down and talk to locals for literally years,” said Chiesa. “It is very late in the process, obviously, but it was good to have them.”


During the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, Chiesa said that there was nearly three hours of public comment and every person who spoke was “pro-Stanislaus County” and against the proposal.


“There was not a single speaker that got up there and said, ‘we love what the State is doing,’” said Chiesa. “This is bad legislation written without the input of local irrigation districts who have been the stewards of water since the 1800s and that’s the disappointing part.”


The Denair Lions Club will also host an open forum with Turlock Irrigation District and Modesto Irrigation District at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Denair Community Center at 3850 Gratton Road. During the forum, TID Legislative Analyst Josh Weimer will provide more information as to what the proposal is and how people can get involved.


“This is part of our ongoing effort to educate people about what the State’s proposal is all about and the potential impact to this area in terms of lost water,” said TID spokesman Calvin Curtin.


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