After months of lengthy debate, Friday marks the last day that the community has to comment on a controversial State Water Resources Control Board document that proposes cutting water use for fish, wildlife and salinity control.
“The proposed Substitute Environmental Document, if adopted by the State Water Board, will cause devastating and long-lasting impacts to the Central Valley not only for growers but for everyone living and working here,” said Turlock Irrigation District spokesman Calvin Curtin. “We urge the Board to listen to the multitude of voices that testified at local public hearings throughout the region in opposition to this flawed and short-sighted proposal. We will continue to encourage the State Water Board to recognize the most recent, most focused, most collaborative science conducted by MID and TID on the Tuolumne River.
“Apart from the State Water Board’s anticipated vote on a final SED later this year, presumably after incorporating public comment, Friday is our region’s last chance to make its voice heard regarding the SED,” continued Curtin.
In September, the State Water Board released a draft revised SED. At more than 3,500 pages, the document proposed allocating 40 percent of unimpaired flows along the Tuolumne River from Feb. 1 to June 30 annually for fish and wildlife beneficial uses and salinity control.
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. The Phase 1 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.
TID Board of Directors voted unanimously to oppose the State Water Board’s Phase 1 SED in October and requested that the State Water Board “pursue a comprehensive solution that prioritizes non-flow measures to protect native fish species before requiring flow increases that would threaten the economic vitality of our region.”
The State Water Board hosted five day-long public hearings in November, December and January to receive input on the draft revised SED from the community. The public hearing in Modesto was standing room-only, with hundreds of locally elected officials, water and agricultural leaders, agency representatives and community members in attendance.
In order to demonstrate the implications of the State Water Board’s proposal, TID and MID looked at data from 2015 to determine that the plan would have led to $1.6 billion in economic output loss, $167 million in farm-gate revenue loss, $330 million in labor income loss and the loss of nearly 7,000 jobs.
Both irrigation districts also launched “Worth Your Fight,” a website that aims to help their customers and the region understand the implications of the plan and its “attempt to steal their livelihoods.” The website can be found at worthyourfight.org.
Written comments on draft revised SED for Phase 1 of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan are due by noon today. The State Water Board is expected to release the final SED and proposed changes to the Bay-Delta Plan for public review in July before considering adoption of the plan and certification of final SED in September.