Merced water management group eyes state funding

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 11, 2013 

— The still-evolving Merced Integrated Regional Water Management Group is gearing up to compete against surrounding regions for millions in state funding to improve water infrastructure.

The water management group has put together a $2.9 million grant proposal, which includes several projects local stakeholders hope to get funded.

"We think we are putting together a very competitive grant application," said Hicham Eltal, a Merced Irrigation District top official who is leading the effort. "We think we have a solid collection of projects."

Proposed projects include flood control improvements on Black Rascal and Bear creeks; installing residential water meters in Planada; and automating the El Nido Dam on Mariposa Creek, which will send more water to the groundwater recharge basis in El Nido.

The Department of Water Resources will dole out about $8.3 million in funding divided between eight regions in the San Joaquin area, including Merced.

State officials will approve or deny proposals in their entirety. Projects within a region's proposal will not receive individual funding. The decisions are expected by summer.

The state started the program several years ago, encouraging local officials to collectively form regional water management groups to compete for granting.

One of 46 state-approved water management groups, the Merced Regional Integrated Water Management Group represents a more than 600,000-acre hydrological region east of the San Joaquin River and southwest of Delhi, Hilmar and Ballico.

To be eligible for state grants, water management groups must prepare an Integrated Regional Water Management Plan, outlining the priorities of the region.

To help design the plan, Eltal and other officials have been meeting with a 40-person regional advisory committee.

"This brought water users from different views to work together," he said. "It's a significant step to move forward on a number of projects in a collaborative manner."

Merced's regional water management plan, which will also outline an official governance structure, will be completed by this summer, Eltal said.

While the makeup of the decision-making board has not been finalized, a preliminary structure has been conceived, Eltal said. "We have a proposed governance structure that will involve elected officials and also keep the advisory committee for guidance."

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. For information about the next meeting, go to www.mercedirwmp.org.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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