Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors did not hold back their fervent disapproval Tuesday morning as they unanimously voted to oppose the State Water Resources Control Board’s recent proposal to cut water use.
“It’s a sham environmental document—it’s fake,” said Director Robert Santos. “It’s Governor Brown’s water grab from our area and he’s trying to force it down our throat.”
“This is an attack on our water rights,” added Director Ron Macedo. “The science they use is just ridiculous.”
On Sept. 15, the State Water Board released their 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.
General Manager Casey Hashimoto said the Phase 1 draft SED was originally issued by the State Water Board in December 2012. Public workshops, which members of TID and the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority attended, were held in March 2013 and comments were submitted at the end of the month.
“We submitted several comments to point out the problems with the original draft of the SED,” said Hashimoto. “The State Water Resources Control Board then took all the comments and went dark.”
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.
Hashimoto said that while the original 2012 document called for a 35 percent release of unimpaired flows, the revised document now calls for a 40 percent release.
“These flows would create significant and unavoidable impacts to this area,” said Hashimoto. “The loss of hundreds of thousands of acre feet in surface water will result in fallowing of prime farmland.”
The Board voted unanimously to oppose the State Water Board’s Phase 1 SED and request 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 farmers get it of course, they know the impact,” said Santos. “We have to convince the city people that this is going to affect their livelihood too—their jobs, their home values—it’s a big deal. It’s a game changer.”
“We can’t stress enough that all Board members are totally against this and this is not a little deal,” said Director Charles Fernandes. “This is probably one of the most important resolutions we’ve had to pass in a long time and we will definitely fight to overcome this.”
On Tuesday the Board also received an update on current hydrological conditions from Utility Analyst Jason Carkeet, who said that the 2016 precipitation year, which began in September of last year and wrapped up in August, ended with 39.42 inches of precipitation for the Tuolumne River Watershed.
“The precipitation year ended up a little above normal,” said Carkeet. “The total was 39.42 inches, which is 109.4 percent of average.”
Carkeet said the Tuolumne Basin experienced just under .03 inches of rainfall since the beginning of the 2017 precipitation year in September and the latest 16-day forecast from the Global Forecast System model run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates the possibility of half of an inch to one inch of precipitation within the next two weeks.
At just one month into the 2017 precipitation year, Carkeet said it is too early to say what the coming year will be like.
“Most of the analyses I have seen from the NOAA have indicated mostly an equal chance of precipitation above normal or below normal for the season with a bit strong possibility of precipitation being below normal from January 2017 on,” said Carkeet.