Local governments, politicians and organizations continue to send letters to the State Water Resources Control Board opposing increased flows on the Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers to accommodate native salmon populations.
The state water board published a proposal in 2012 on the the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary (Bay-Delta) Plan, citing “significant, but unavoidable” impacts to the regions surrounding the rivers. The plan would require 35 percent of unimpaired flow on the three rivers, meaning 35 percent of snow runoff would be released into the rivers and could not be stored in reservoirs.
35 percentProposed increase to Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers
Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, is concerned about how the increased flows, coupled with the drought and groundwater challenges, will impact the economic and agriculture future of the area. He sent another letter to Felicia Marcus, the water board’s chairwoman, last month.
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“To date, your board has not explained what the ‘significant, but unavoidable’ consequences to our area will be if the plan is implemented as currently drafted,” he said. “...this is an issue that goes beyond fish and farmers. It affects our students, our businesses and our general quality of life.”
Multiple agencies from Merced and Stanislaus counties have voiced concern about the plan’s impact on groundwater.
Steven Gomes, superintendent of the Merced County Office of Education, wrote to Marcus in June about how the plan would affect students. “Ms. Marcus, this legal wordsmithing completely fails to describe the devastation that the implementation of this plan would have on the thousands of people who live in Merced County, send their kids to school here, and who hope to prosper here,” Gomes wrote.
The water board tentatively plans to release a revised draft of the plan this fall, said Larry Lindsay, the Bay-Delta unit chief of the board’s Division of Water Rights.
When the plan was proposed in 2012, the board hoped to adopt and implement the plan by June 2014. That timeline has been pushed back because of a combination of drought work and “discovering a need for further analysis” on the plan, Lindsay said.
He said the board has received the letters from community members and is considering the input.
“It’s a complicated issue,” Lindsay said. “We’re doing our best to consider all the information out there. The harder we work on it, the more we learn.”
It’s a complicated issue. We’re doing our best to consider all the information out there. The harder we work on it, the more we learn.
Larry Lindsay, Bay-Delta unit chief in the Division of Water Rights
When asked about the phrase “significant, but unavoidable” regarding groundwater impacts, Lindsay said the revision scheduled for fall will refine the groundwater analysis.
“We’ve been working hard on that topic,” he said. “There will be some revisions.”
In addition to the Bay-Delta Plan, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is considering the Merced Irrigation District’s application for relicensing to operate New Exchequer Dam on Lake McClure. The license usually lasts 50 years. FERC’s draft environmental impact statement also proposes a significant increase in flows to Merced River.
The district currently is responsible for providing irrigation water to farmers, keeping the Merced River flowing year-round to water the Merced River National Wildlife Refuge and keeping water in Lake McClure.
Hundreds of residents voiced their concerns – which included reductions to irrigation water for farmers and increased groundwater pumping – at a meeting in May.
A final document with new water storage requirements is expected from FERC before the end of the year.
Lindsay said the state water board is aware of the FERC draft environmental impact statement and is interested in what the agency is proposing. Some of the water board’s proposals may be implemented through the FERC process, he said.
In the meantime, the Merced Irrigation District waits, while operating the hydroelectricity at New Exchequer and dealing with low water levels at McClure.
“Both of these regulatory processes stand to have significant impacts on our community's economy and groundwater replenishment,” said Mike Jensen, a spokesman for the irrigation district. “We are awaiting the latest information from both FERC and the state water board.”
Brianna Vaccari: 209-385-2477