Valley leaders take issue with state water board’s explanation

September 28, 2016 - - There was nothing ambiguous in what representatives of the State Water Resources Control Board heard Wednesday morning: “We definitely want to deliver a message,” said Stanislaus County Supervisor Terry Withrow. “We want to call BS. This is an insult to our intelligence.”
Withrow was speaking to Les Grober, a high-ranking state water board staffer who attended a packed meeting of the Stanislaus Water Advisory Committee in downtown Modesto. And those weren’t the angriest or loudest words Grober and two other board staffers heard.
Officials from Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties listened as state officials explained the revised Substitute Environmental Document – a 3,100-page justification for taking twice as much water from our region as the state takes now.
It was the first skirmish in what many public officials – legislators, school superintendents, irrigation district officials – are declaring a water war.
The SED justifies sending 40 percent of the flows from the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers down the San Joaquin to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta – basically, double current flows.
The state claims the additional water is necessary to save threatened salmon and steelhead trout. There’s no doubt both species are in trouble, but many are questioning the state’s sudden urgency.
A horribly flawed SED was released in 2012 then rescinded. It took four years to revise it, but the water board has given our region only 60 days to respond; it plans to make a decision by early 2017.
That timeline has angered legislators such as Jeff Denham, Adam Gray and Kristin Olsen and a host of other public officials. Now, the state is expected to extend the comment period.
It should. After four years and dozens of delays, what’s the sudden hurry?
Could it be the water board is trying to speed along Gov. Jerry Brown’s twin-tunnels project to ship Delta water south?
Grober said all that was in “phase 2” and refused to elaborate. But just four days after the SED’s rerelease provoked a maelstrom of criticism, Gov. Brown intervened and instructed his Natural Resources Agency to work with the water board and regional officials to reach “voluntary agreements” – clearly the best approach. But an SED with absurd economic-impact numbers and a failure to recognize the devastating impacts of predation on salmon is an unlikely starting point.
When Turlock Irrigation District board member Ron Macedo asked what the state’s objectives are for the number of salmon, Grober spoke of “biological goals” instead of actual numbers. Yet, the state justifies its grab by citing low numbers of fish; that’s a disconnect.
Even as it justified taking more water from our region, the state suggested selling water to others to help pay for improvements. We’re supposed to sell the water we’ve got left instead of using it to grow food and create jobs?
After 90 minutes, Walt Ward, Stanislaus County’s groundwater expert, finally unmasked “the 800-pound gorilla,” noting the amount of water demanded from the tributaries is roughly equal to the water Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed twin tunnels will remove from the Delta.
As Withrow said, don’t insult our intelligence.

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