Bureaucrats lusting after valley water

By JOSHUA PEDROZOMarch 22, 2013 

Water is the lifeline of the San Joaquin Valley. We all expect it to flow out of our faucets and wells. And we expect there to be food on the shelves of the grocery stores.

Unfortunately, this water -- as well as our agriculture-based economy -- is at significant risk under a proposal by the state Water Resources Control Board.

It seems simple enough. You pay your city bill and water is delivered to your faucet. If you live in the county, you pay your electric bill to pump water from what seems like an ever-deepening well.

It's assumed the water will always be there. Unfortunately, that may not always be the case.

We are fighting now here in Merced and all over the San Joaquin Valley to protect what is rightfully ours. On New Year's Eve, the state water board issued a proposal that called for several valley irrigation districts to release 35 percent of their "unimpaired flow" from storage reservoirs between February and June -- exactly the time when spring runoff from the Sierra is being stored.

This means that 35 percent of the water flowing into Lake McClure would not be stored for use by our community.

This reduction in water would fallow nearly 128,000 acres of farmland in our region. Job losses -- in an already disadvantaged community -- would be in the hundreds. These are numbers considered "unavoidable" by the state board's analysis. This is absolutely unacceptable.

I understand that the state wants to improve the health of the Bay-Delta. As with many others, I remain concerned about leaving a more sustainable environmental footprint for future generations. That includes making wise decisions about the vitality of the ecological health of the delta for the future.

The issue here, however, is that we aren't even sure that the proposed increase in river flows will contribute to the betterment to the delta.

As the water of the San Joaquin Valley is being viewed as a source to improve the delta, other environmental stressors on the delta are continuing to be overlooked: the challenges of pollution, loss of spawning habitat and predation of small salmon by non-native sport fish.

The view from the state Water Board's staff seems to be that Merced County and the San Joaquin Valley represent a golden faucet that can cure all the ailments in the delta. This is dangerous thinking at worst and reckless thinking at best.

It would be easy to assume this is simply an agricultural issue and it doesn't concern those who don't farm or have an interest in the agriculture production sector.

The reality is that the state water board's current proposal will have a direct impact on everyone. Farmers and cities alike will have to dig deeper wells and pay even more for electricity to pump water from that greater depth.

This charge will then be passed on to us, the ratepayers, most of whom continue to face some level of economic hardship from the Great Recession.

I don't mind paying for the services that I as a member of the community expect to receive. What I don't want, however, is an appointed governing board in Sacramento deciding what is or isn't best for our city and local farmers.

It is time for us as a community and region to stand up to those who look down on the San Joaquin Valley as the solution to the problems that the Bay Area and Southern California face.

We are the world's bread basket. The more unified we are in our opposition to this proposal, the more likely we are to keep our water where it rightfully belongs: here in the San Joaquin Valley where it has been wisely used for decades.

Pedrozo is a Merced City Council member and member of longtime area farming family.

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