New water group works to come up with project ideas

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comDecember 26, 2012 

The Merced Regional Water Management Group should be up and running by this summer, but the first deadline to submit project proposals to the Department of Water Resources is March 31.

However, officials working to get the management group off the ground said they will submit a list of projects for the first round of funding.

The local region will compete against nearby regions for $8 million in funding, said Hicham Eltal, Merced Irrigation District deputy general manager of water resources. "The plan is to come up with smart, good projects that meet the state's objectives and our objectives," he said.

Under the encouragement of the state, community and government leaders over recent months have spearheaded the creation of the group to improve water infrastructure and quality, as well as protect groundwater in the area.

The management group will represent Merced County's more than 600,000-acre hydrological region east of the San Joaquin River and southwest of Delhi, Hilmar and Ballico.

"Since we're all sitting on one (groundwater) basin, regardless of the political boundary, what happens around us impacts us," said Eltal, who has led the project along with Merced City Director of Water Resources Mike Wegley and Ron Rowe, county water and land specialist.

The governance structure for the final management group has yet to be determined, but a list of priorities and potential projects -- known as the Merced Integrated Regional Water Management Plan -- are well under way, according to Eltal.

"The plan is our way of talking to the state about our priorities," he said. "When we go to do the projects, we have to go with the state's priorities."

Eltal and the working group have been meeting with a 40-person regional advisory committee of local stake holders to help design the program.

"The group has great potential because it's pulling together most of the different water users in the area," said UC Merced Professor of Engineering Martha Conklin, who sits on the committee. "To me the whole process is exciting."

All state-funded projects will include a 25 percent cost share from the region.

The county, the city of Merced and the MID have jointly agreed to put up about $250,000 of staff time and funding to get the management group started. The MID has agreed to front $750,000, which officials say will be reimbursed by the state.

"The MID has been doing the heavy lifting," Conklin said. "But they've really bent over backwards to make this a democratic process and really made a point to make sure everyone's voice is being heard."

The advisory committee has public meetings on the fourth Tuesday of the month from 2 to 5 p.m. at Merced City Hall, 678 W. 18th St. Information regarding the next meeting can be found at www.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached

at (209) 385-2486 or

Merced Sun-Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service