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Local representatives make moves for water legislation at state, federal levels
don pedro
Central Valley legislators continue to press for more water storage projects. - photo by Journal file photo

Water has been a viral topic of conversation in California communities as state mandated conservation standards have become stricter, but storage of the precious resource has also been at the forefront of local legislators’ minds in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

On April 27, various stakeholders gathered at the state Capitol to rally for the importance of accelerating the construction of water storage projects in California and for Assembly Bill 311, co-authored by Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen (R – Modesto) and Assembly Member James Gallagher (R-Nicolaus). The bill proposed to streamline the environmental review process for the Sites Reservoir and Temperance Flat water storage projects.

“No civilized society seeks to destroy its own food supply or economic strengths, but that’s exactly where government water policies in California are headed,” said Olsen in a statement released on April 27. “Californians are demanding action to increase water supply so farmers can grow their crops, businesses can thrive, people can get back to work and families can lead healthy lives.  Passing this legislation is critical to protecting our local economies and our quality of life.”

Assembly Bill 311 did not pass out of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on Monday afternoon. Public comment was not accepted for the bill as it was on its second reading, despite the fact that bus loads of people from Central Valley communities, like Turlock and Modesto, attended the hearing. They were able, however, to remark on Assembly member Adam Gray’s (D – Merced) Bill 1242. In response to the Water Resources Control Board’s proposal to divert 350,000 acre-feet of water away from irrigators and municipalities on the Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers, the bill states that the Board must mitigate adverse impacts of any new water quality control plan.

“My district is home to some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country,” said Gray. “The recession and drought have hit the Central Valley harder than anywhere else in the state. But the Water Board’s proposal would truly devastate our region.”

Gray’s bill passed the Assembly Natural Resources Committee with bipartisan support after he accepted amendments to require the State Water Board to identify projects that could restore fish populations instead of diverting water away from irrigators and drinking water.

Gray’s bill was publicly supported by several water advocates that gathered at the Capitol to testify in support of the bill. Representatives from the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors, Turlock Irrigation District, Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, and University of California, Merced students amongst others were present.

“Today, citizens of the Central Valley sent a powerful message to Sacramento,” said Gray. “The struggle to protect our water and promote sustainability is not over, but the residents of the Central Valley have made it clear that they demand to have a voice at the table.”

Moves are also being made at the federal level as Congressman Jeff Denham (R – Turlock) introduced two pieces of legislation on April 29 aimed at not only protecting fish populations, but allocating local agencies with more control to manage the New Melones reservoir in the foothills.

HR 2086 would establish a pilot program on the Stanislaus River to protect native steelhead fish and salmon populations from predator fish which are posing an ongoing threat according to fishery studies and those accepted by the broader science community said Denham.

“We’re spending far too much money and prioritizing far too much water towards these fish to let them be killed off by non-native species. This pilot program should be part of the ongoing conversation about protecting fish,” he said.

Slated to last for five years, the Oakdale Irrigation District and South San Joaquin Irrigation District would be charged with financing the program which would be administered in conjunction with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. OID and SSJID would need to produce a peer-reviewed document at the conclusion of the program, which would only take place at the Stanislaus River, but include best practices for future Stanislaus River efforts along with other California streams.

Denham also introduced HR 2085 which would require the Secretary of the Interior to negotiate with local water and power providers so that New Melones would come under local control.

 “Our local irrigation and power districts are more than qualified to manage our water resources in a way that protects agriculture, families and the environment,” said Denham. “The bill I introduced today would empower local public agencies to better serve the needs of their Central Valley customers and allocate water appropriately, especially in drought-stricken months.”

Both of Denham’s bills are slated to be heard by the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Locals interested in hearing more from their local legislators in person can attend Government Night at 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday at California State University, Stanislaus Mary Stuart Rogers building Conference Room 130. Stanislaus County Board Supervisor Vito Chiesa will emcee the evening that allows Olsen, Denham, Senator Tom Berryhill (R – Twain Harte), and Mayor Gary Soiseth to interface with constituents with prepared comments as well as a question and answer session.

Video coverage of the event will be available at on Friday.