Officials release Merced area water plan

Region able to apply for $3.2 million in state project grants

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJune 24, 2013 

— The region's first integrated water management plan has been released, and the collaborative effort provides a "big picture" perspective on water, officials said.

Multiple agencies, including the city of Merced, Merced County and the Merced Irrigation District, joined forces with more than 35 community stakeholders — a Regional Advisory Committee — to create the plan.

It took more than a year to draft, but the "Integrated Regional Water Management Plan" covers issues such as water conservation, flood control, water quality, groundwater recharging and climate change.

"It is very important for the region to have an integrated regional water plan because that is our way to tell the state that this is the inventory of water in this area," said Hicham Eltal, MID deputy general manager. "These are the issues related to water in this area and these are the impacts to the region."

The region encompasses roughly 600,000 acres of land, and is bordered by Dry Creek, the Merced River, the San Joaquin River and the Chowchilla River.

A $750,000 state grant covered the costs of hiring consultants to put the plan together. The city of Merced, Merced County and MID collectively chipped in $250,000 to cover the salaries of management staff working on the project.

Eltal said the time and money invested in the endeavor will pay off because the plan allows the region to apply for $3.2 million in state grants for water-related projects.

"As we were working with the plan, we asked them (the committee) to identify projects that could fit the plan," Eltal said. "The unique thing is the grants allow for no little or no local cost share."

More than 70 project ideas emerged, but officials identified four projects to apply for funding immediately. "We looked at not only water supply, but also drinking water, wastewater, floodwater and recreation," Eltal said.

Jean Okuye, Merced County Farm Bureau president, said education is the key to finding solutions to water issues, such as erosion and subsidence.

"As president of the Farm Bureau, I'm concerned about the farmers who might be losing their land because of erosion," she said. "What can we do to save that land? By having this plan, we will be able to get grants that will provide the means of education."

'It's all connected'

"I think it's critical that we look at the entire water picture — groundwater, wastewater and surface water, because it's all connected," Okuye added. "It's all about education. How can we do a better job of managing what we have?"

Martha Conklin, a hydrologist who teaches environmental engineering at UC Merced, said the plan unites many diverse groups under one vision.

"For years, there were many interests, and they didn't always come to the table," Conklin said. The group included farmers, engineers, elected officials and university personnel.

"You brought this diverse community together and everyone was asked to indicate their priorities," she said. "It makes it easier to apply for money, if you can show you have a constituency behind it."

Eltal said officials want the public's opinion on the plan. A copy is available at www.mercedirwmp.org.

The Regional Water Management Group will hold three public meetings to discuss the draft plan.

In Merced: 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Sam Pipes Room inside the Merced Civic Center, 678 W. 18th St.

In Winton: 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Winton Community Hall, 7091 W. Walnut Ave.

In Livingston: 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Livingston City Council Chambers, 1416 C St.

Eltal said the goal is to adopt the plan by October 2013 to qualify for grants.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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