It is one of the oldest tricks in the book. If there's bad news to be released, do it on the eve of a major holiday. That is exactly what the State Water Resources Control Board did when it proposed increased water flows for the San Joaquin River on New Year's Eve.
No doubt, the state board knew the proposal with devastating impacts to the valley would not be well received. No matter where in the valley you live, and no matter if you are a single person living in an apartment, part of a family in a house, or a farmer you know that when the state's water bureaucracy comes up with a proposal, the valley is often left drawing the short straw.
Specifically, the state water board made a recommendation to increase the water flows in the Merced, Tuolumne, and Stanislaus rivers by up to 35 percent between Feb. 1 and June 30 each year. Doing so would divert critically needed water from our valley growers toward the San Joaquin River and the bay-delta. The proposal, disturbingly, exempts San Francisco, which operates Hetch Hetchy reservoir on the Tuolumne River.
I do not believe the water bureaucrats in Sacramento truly understand that the valley is a region that is among the most economically distressed in the nation. Yes, California might have experienced the Great Recession, but we in the valley experienced something more akin to the Great Depression. There are towns and cities throughout the valley that are still experiencing 20, 30 and even 40 percent unemployment.
For if the bureaucrats in Sacramento understood the economic realities of the valley, basic humanity and decency would prevent the release of a proposal with a potential negative regional economic effect of more than $200 million, a decrease in crop revenue of more than $100 million and more than a thousand jobs lost.
To add insult to injury, the increased flows in winter would result in less water being available in summer for hydroelectric power generation. The sun does not stop shining and the summer heat does not relent simply because there is less water for hydropower. This lost power must be replaced -- probably at a significantly higher cost. Therefore, it is quite possible that valley residents will be paying higher electrical bills under this proposal.
We all have a stake in the health of the delta, and there's no question that it's a critical resource for our state. However, taking more water from three rivers important to the economic well-being of the valley at this moment is like asking somebody on unemployment for a loan.
We only have to look to the water supply crisis on the West Side from a few years back, when the drought combined with regulatory water cuts resulted in hundreds of thousands of acres of fallowed farmland, astronomically high unemployment rates, and food lines in farming communities. We do not need to replicate this crisis on the east side of the valley.
Yes, water is an incredibly important issue. However, what is of equal concern to me is the clear lack of understanding on the part of the water bureaucrats of the severe fiscal and economic hardships people in the valley face on an everyday basis.
The State Water Resources Control Board did not propose just a water grab the board proposed a crop grab, an economic activity grab, a hydropower grab and a job grab. It is time to tell the board the valley's story and it is time for the board to work with and listen to the residents and farmers of the valley.
Gray, D-Merced, represents the new 21st Assembly District, which includes all of Merced County and part of Stanislaus County.