Agriculture

Merced Irrigation District plans lawsuit to fight controversial Bay-Delta plan

Lake McClure, which can hold about 1 million acre feet of water, was only filled to 20 percent capacity in 2016. The state’s water plan would make this almost a permanent condition.
Lake McClure, which can hold about 1 million acre feet of water, was only filled to 20 percent capacity in 2016. The state’s water plan would make this almost a permanent condition. akuhn@mercedsunstar.com

The Merced Irrigation District will be filing a lawsuit to prevent water from the Merced River to be diverted to the Bay Area, according to a news release.

Several Valley water districts were considering filing suit after negotiations with the State Water Board broke down with the Dec. 12 passage of the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan and Substitute Environmental Document.

The plan aims to allocate 40 percent of the runoff in the Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers to the Bay Area in hopes of increasing the salmon population and increase water quality.

Critics say less water will go to farmers and local residents, while it will be harder to preserve water in reservoirs, including Lake McClure in anticipation of multi-year droughts, officials said.

“This plan is illegal and it is not scientifically sound,” MID General Manager John Sweigard said in the release. “It relies on outdated data and false premises. The State Water Board has put our entire region’s survivability at risk.”

Opponents of the state’s plan are presenting a legal argument as well, claiming the State Water Board violated the water districts’ due process rights and didn’t meet the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act.

The district believes the Bay-Delta plan could have an economic cost of up to $231 million, and up to 970 jobs, in Merced County.

The Oakland Irrigation District and South San Joaquin Irrigation districts stated that a voluntary agreement between the State Water Board and the water districts had almost been reached.

The districts were offering habitat improvements and flows of water at specific times to support salmon migration.

They also say the Bay-Delta plan is based on Bay Area salmon problems and water quality issues that Central Valley residents unfairly pay for with the water allocation.

“These are Delta problems,” Sweigard said. “They need to be addressed in the Delta and they need to be addressed with real solutions - not by simply stealing the water from a disadvantaged community in the San Joaquin Valley.”

Ken Carlson of the Modesto Bee contributed to this report.

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