A water bill written by Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, that would force the state to consider the consequences of diverting water from the Central Valley cleared its first committee Tuesday.
Assembly Bill 1242 would require the state Water Resources Control Board to mitigate adverse impacts of any new water quality control plan. The board recently proposed diverting 350,000 acre-feet of water from the Tuolumne, Merced and Stanislaus rivers to protect certain fish.
The water plan was also touted as a way to prevent salt intrusion into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. If there is not enough fresh water going into the Delta, officials fear seawater from the ocean will intrude into it.
But the impacts of removing that much water from the region would devastate Merced County’s groundwater resources, according to local officials. They said the water plan would hurt attempts to reach groundwater sustainability by hampering efforts to recharge the aquifer.
“The Water Board’s proposal would divert an amount of water equal to the entire Hetch Hetchy Reservoir out of the San Joaquin Valley,” Gray said in a news release.
“After years of debate over a water bond to build new dams in the Valley, this plan would take a sledgehammer to the reservoirs we’ve already built. The negative economic, environmental and health impacts of a water grab of this magnitude are simply unacceptable,” he said.
Gray’s chief of staff, Mike Lynch, said the proposed amount of water to be diverted is enough to serve all of the residents of San Francisco. To put it in perspective, the Merced Irrigation District makes 280,000 acre-feet of surface water available in a normal year. The proposal would take more water out of the Central Valley than MID provides.
The state acknowledged that the proposal would have “significant but unavoidable” impacts on local groundwater basins.
Lynch said the bill is “modest” because it doesn’t tell the state how to mitigate adverse impacts. “All it does is say before you take the water, you have to mitigate the damage,” Lynch said. “Assemblyman Gray tried to portray this issue not as one of farmers vs. fish, but an issue that impacts the entire community.”
A host of Merced County leaders and elected officials testified in favor of the bill at the state Capitol on Tuesday. Also this week, Atwater’s City Council voted to add the city to the list of those supporting the legislation.
“We had incredible support from the community today (Tuesday),” Gray said in the release. “We had mayors, supervisors, irrigators, businesses, labor groups, education leaders and community activists at the Capitol today fighting for the Valley’s water future.”
District 2 Supervisor Hub Walsh attended to voice support on behalf of the county Board of Supervisors.
“It clearly has implications on the county if you’re going to remove large quantities of surface water,” Walsh said Wednesday. “We were there to support the assemblyman’s effort in saying we need to mitigate this and let’s engage in that discussion.”
AB 1242 received bipartisan support and passed out of the Assembly’s Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee with a vote of 8-4. It has several more hurdles to pass before making it to the Assembly floor: the Natural Resources Committee and possibly the Appropriations Committee, if it would have fiscal impacts to the state.