Assemblymembers Adam Gray (D-Merced) and Kristin Olsen (R-Riverbank) delivered 3,100 petitions to the State Water Resources Control Board this week, proclaiming their firm opposition to a recent proposal to allocate 40 percent of water along the Tuolumne River for the benefit of fish and wildlife in the Delta.
“The last report from the State Water Board proposed taking 35 percent of our water,” said Gray. “After a four year review process, during which the Board refused to engage with local stakeholders who live near and depend on these rivers, the number has now grown to 49 percent.
“It is unfathomable how the Water Board could witness the harm caused by one of the worst droughts in California’s history and draw the conclusion that they need even more from us,” continued Gray.
This proposition is part of the State Water Board’s requirement every three years to update the Bay-Delta Plan, which is a state-certified regulatory program used to establish water quality control measures in order to adequately protect beneficial water use in the Bay-Delta Watershed.
As detailed in the draft, 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.
“The State Water Board must acknowledge the difficult position this proposal will have on our local communities as we attempt to balance demands on water,” said Olsen. “How can we achieve sustainable groundwater supplies if the number one source of recharge from our rivers is eliminated under this proposal?”
Along with turning in the petitions, both Gray and Olsen requested that the SWRCB extend the original 60 day comment period to 120 days in order to give additional stakeholders time to respond. They also asked that the Board hold meetings with local agencies in the communities that depend on each of these three rivers.
“The Water Board’s proposal makes a number of references to settlement discussions,” said Gray. “If they genuinely would prefer settlement instead of litigation, they need to start treating our communities with the respect they deserve.”
Gray and Olsen were not the only local legislators to publicly oppose the State Water Board’s proposal as Congressmen Jeff Denham (CA-10), Jim Costa (CA-16) and Tom McClintock (CA-4) released a joint statement expressing their disapproval.
“It is completely unacceptable that the State Water Resources Control Board failed to hold public hearings in the communities most affected by this proposal,” wrote Denham, Costa and McClintock in the statement. “The people, the farmers and communities in the San Joaquin Valley have borne the brunt of the impacts of five years of drought conditions and this proposal, if adopted, would only result in further harm to the economy of the region.
“The SWRCB must extend the comment period for at least 90 days because the people of San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Merced Counties deserve an open and transparent process where their voices can be heard. Furthermore, it is imperative that before any additional releases are ordered, the SWRCB must prove that the anticipated ecological benefits outlined in this proposal will be realized,” continued Denham, Costa and McClintock.