State’s water grab includes stunning groundwater restrictions

Lake McClure was only at 17 percent of its capacity in 2016, exposing the old dam. Such scenarios will be far more common after the state approves its water grab next Wednesday.
Lake McClure was only at 17 percent of its capacity in 2016, exposing the old dam. Such scenarios will be far more common after the state approves its water grab next Wednesday. akuhn@mercedsunstar.com

The State Water Resources Control Board will vote Wednesday on a proposal to send more of our river water out to the Delta – a move that would decimate the Central Valley’s economy, water quality and quality of life.

The water board claims this is to save some fish. But many believe there are ulterior motives.

In October 2016, water board staff spoke to the Merced board of supervisors for the first time about the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan Update and its impacts on our disadvantaged communities. This plan will send significant amounts of surface water – up to 50 percent of unimpaired flows – out into the ocean from the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus Rivers.

It took only seven years from the first inklings of an update for the water board to actually talk to the leaders of impacted counties about the flawed proposal.

When the chairman of the Merced board of supervisors asked the water board’s executive director about the connection between the plan and the WaterFix’s proposal to build two tunnels in the Delta, the executive director insisted “there is no conspiracy” to take Merced’s water for the WaterFix.

During five days of public hearings in 2016, the water board refused to even utter the word “WaterFix” and shut down anyone who brought it up during their comments. So much for free speech.

This proposal is a state water grab. Over the last 10 years we’ve seen a daisy-chain of actions taken by the water board and all designed to grab water from our three rivers and send it to Southern California.

No conspiracy? I beg to differ. Here’s why:

Starting in 2006, the state has been vigorously working on a plan to “save” the Delta and establish a reliable water supply to the thirsty Southern California. The Bay-Delta Conservation Plan morphed into the WaterFix, a plan to build two 40-foot diameter tunnels to deliver water beneath the Delta to pumps that send it south.

How do you mitigate against the environmental impacts of sucking hundreds of thousands of acre feet of Sacramento River water and sending it directly to the state and federal pumps? By finding another source of water to put in the Delta, holding back the encroaching seawater. The justification came through the the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan for the Lower San Joaquin River in 2012, with flow objectives startling similar to the amount of water being pulled off the Sacramento.

What fortuitous timing!

A new source of water for the Delta just as more was bypassing it and heading south. But this only works if 50 percent of the water from the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers flow past our farms and orchards out to the Delta. Never mind that this water nourishes disadvantaged communities in Merced, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

The WaterFix plan also hijacks storage in Lake McClure and Don Pedro Reservoir.

A decrease in river water means people here will have to pump more groundwater. But what happens when that pumping causes significant and unavoidable impacts to groundwater?

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, passed in 2014, will force us to only pump as much as can be sustainably replenished.

The state water board may insist the impacts of the WaterFix and the Bay-Delta Plan have been mitigated, but the economic and human impacts are stunning, destructive and will affect all of our communities for decades. Merced and Stanislaus County’s economic impact study predicts at least $1 billion per year in losses.

The WaterFix promises additional water for Southern California, but hurts the Delta. The Bay-Delta Plan mitigates the negative impacts in the Delta, but leads to negative groundwater impacts here. SGMA restricts increased pumping negating impacts to groundwater, leaving people living in Merced, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties without surface water, without the ability to increase groundwater pumping, and facing draconian economic and human impacts.

Some might say such logic is a conspiracy theory, but this conspiracy is based on evidence.

For more information, visit www.stopthestatewatergrab.com.

Daron McDaniel represents district 3 on the Merced County Board of Supervisors.