Merced Irrigation District and our community have a strong track record of environmental stewardship. From MID staff, to our community, to our local legislators our community has put its best foot forward toward solving complex water and environmental issues related to the Merced River.
After years of promoting compromises on Merced River fishery and flow requirements, it has become apparent there is no compromise to be found.
We commend MID staff for developing and promoting the Merced River SAFE (Salmon, Agriculture, Flows and Environment) Plan as an alternative to the state’s severely flawed Bay Delta Plan and the Substitute Environmental Draft that would implement part of it on the Merced.
The SAFE Plan is a comprehensive plan and solution for Merced River salmon. Merced ID, along with other parties, have been discussing a settlement as it relates to future San Joaquin River tributary river flows, including the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers, to the Bay Delta. We have seen zero evidence the state or environmental groups are receptive to the MID’s SAFE Plan proposal.
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If the state were receptive to the SAFE Plan, Merced River salmon would see improvements in their life-cycle habitat immediately through river restoration and immediate increases in river flows.
The fact the state has not embraced the SAFE Plan – and stubbornly continues to pursue its own flawed plan of taking vast amounts of water from senior rights holders – shows this is not about salmon. This is about something far greater.
This is about circumventing the water rights priority system in California and taking our senior storage and water rights to give to junior water rights holders in the name of fish and Delta outflow.
Coincidentally, the state is pursuing its twin tunnels proposal to divert more water from the Sacramento River before that water ever reaches the delta – all the while telling San Joaquin River senior water rights holders the state needs our water for the “Delta.”
Forgive the pun, but something “smells fishy.”
We hear echoes of “Save The Delta,” “Restore The Delta,” etc. Folks, we have news for you – the natural, historical Delta no longer exists.
The Delta is a forever-altered, man-made and developed water system. What was once a natural environmental system is now farms, cities and towns protected by man-made levees all built with the blessings of the state. The state allowed the Delta to be developed for agriculture, towns and cities. Given those facts, why are Merced ID’s water rights being targeted as the solution to mitigate for the development of the Delta?
We know that some amount of river flow will be part of a solution for improved native fish populations. However, the Merced River is only 3 percent of the Delta inflow, yet we are being told our water is 100 percent of the solution. The main stem of the San Joaquin River, located upstream of the Merced River confluence, yields nearly twice the flow of the Merced River. And still this vital section of river has been left out of the SED’s call for more water flows to the Delta.
Merced ID is willing to be part of the solution for Merced River salmon moving forward. We will not, however, stand idly by while the state looks only to our water rights as the way to mitigate the actions of others, including those who have directly benefitted from the development of the Delta.
Merced ID has tried to do the right thing by developing the SAFE Plan and making settlement efforts. We now urge Merced ID’s stakeholders to support our refocused efforts as we gear up for the impending regulatory and legal battles that await as we continue to work to protect our community’s water supply.
Dave Long is president and Scott Koehn is vice president of Merced Irrigation District. They wrote this for The Merced Sun-Star.