Merced joins opposition to state water plan

Merced Irrigation District offers people bus trip to hearing in Sacramento

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comMarch 19, 2013 

The City Council unanimously approved a resolution Monday to come out against the state's plan to limit the amount of water irrigation districts can take from the San Joaquin River's major salmon-bearing tributaries during the spring.

The city's resolution calls on the state to prioritize "predation reduction programs" over flow requirements that, according to city officials, would "threaten the economic vitality" of the region.

The state Water Quality Control Board's proposed Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan hopes to boost fish populations by increasing flows on the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers.

The plan would require the Merced, Turlock and Modesto irrigation districts to leave an average of 35 percent of mountain runoff in their respective tributaries from February to June.

Merced joins the city of Atwater, the Merced County Board of Supervisors, the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce, the Merced County Farm Bureau, as well as Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, and State Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, in opposing the water board's plan.

The region would likely have to endure more than $60 million dollars in annual economic losses because of the requirement, according to the water board. About 400 jobs would be permanently lost.

On Wednesday, state officials will hold a public hearing on the plan in Sacramento at California Environmental Protection Agency building. Regional irrigation and agricultural officials pledged to be there in full force.

The Merced Irrigation District is providing a free bus to the public hearing. Seating is first come, first serve. Interested parties can call (209) 723-3001.

The bus will leave from the irrigation district office at 744 West 20th St. at 6 a.m. The hearing starts at 9 a.m.

The public comment period for the draft plan ends March 29. The revised draft plan will be released to the public in the summer and will go before the board in the fall.

A 2009 study from the water board found that leaving 60 percent of runoff in the tributaries would increase salmon populations on the San Joaquin River.

In recent years, the river level has dropped dramatically because of water diversions, falling to as little as 5 percent of spring runoff, according to water board officials.

The proposed plan would allow affected parties to petition the board to raise or lower the flow requirement between 25 percent and 45 percent of the spring runoff.

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

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