Grant will pay for management of Central Valley rivers, including Merced

May 17, 2011 

A grant for approximately $217,000 will help create at least one watershed coordinator job for four San Joaquin Valley rivers and help bring agricultural growers and environmentalists together on uses for the rivers.

The Middle San Joaquin-Lower Merced-Lower Stanislaus Watershed was given a grant from the California Department of Conservation to create at least one and possibly two coordinator positions, according to Christine Daskam, administrative manager of the East Stanislaus Resource Conservation District.

"We are hoping to get two watershed coordinators to work on the Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Merced and Tuolumne rivers," Daskam said. "They will be addressing concerns, such as education outreach, identifying stakeholders on the rivers and get communication going between the agricultural and environmental communities."

That's good news for one grower in Merced County. Aaron Wentzel, who farms with his father along the Merced River just outside of Cressey, said knowing the rise and fall of the river is important to growers.

"I'm grazing some goats near the river and use portable fencing," Wentzel said. "When the river goes up or down, it puts the goats sometimes right to the edge of the water, inundates them or lets them out of the fencing."

Wentzel's father grows walnuts, and Wentzel said the water levels can flood growers who are on the river, even when the river isn't in a flood stage. "The levels would be considered under the flood danger, but still high enough to affect us," Wentzel said.

The coordinators that may be hired will address concerns along all the watersheds, including environmental concerns. "We'll be working with our partners to preserve and restore wetland habitats," Daskam said. "And we'll definitely be working on improving both ground and surface water."

The district just received notification of the grant agreement, Daskam said. Interviews for what may be two positions will begin sometime before the middle of June.

Anyone interested in applying for the position can call Daskam at (209) 491-9320.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com.

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