Water users blast State Water Board’s proposed decision

A proposed decision by the State Water Resources Control Board mandating increases in the amount of water flowing into Central Valley rivers will not solve issues with declining salmon populations, says an organization representing water users.

The proposed revisions to the flow requirements for the San Joaquin River and the Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers is to protect fish and wildlife as well as address salinity requirements to protect Southern Delta agriculture, the water board claims.

But the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority, whose members include the Modesto Irrigation District, Turlock Irrigation District, Oakdale Irrigation District, Merced Irrigation District, the City and County of San Francisco, and the South San Joaquin Irrigation District, says the plan is ill-founded and fails to address what it sees as the real reasons for declining fish populations.

The water users say the 2,065-page proposal would “dramatically increase” the amount of water irrigation districts must allow to flow naturally.

The flow proposal would set February through June flow requirements of 35 percent of unimpaired flow for three salmon bearing tributaries — the Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers, the water board says. Unimpaired flow is the flow that would occur if all runoff from the watershed remained in the river, without storage in reservoirs or diversions, such as irrigation, power generation, or water supply.

“Currently, median February through June flows in the Merced, and Tuolumne rivers are less than 35 percent of unimpaired flow more than half of the time, so this proposal would require increased flows to meet the proposed requirement,” the board says.

“Despite the high stakes for fragile fish populations, water suppliers, and their customers, the long-awaited action fails to detail solid scientific evidence describing what Californians can expect in exchange for the substantial sacrifice of water,” says the tributary authority.

“This recommendation is just one example of the State Water Board’s fundamental misunderstanding of how to solve the challenges facing the Delta,” says Allen Short, executive director of the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority. “Restoring our fisheries is not a problem that can be solved by simply throwing more water down the river. We need to pursue habitat restoration, predation control, change ocean harvest standards, and change hatchery practices in a comprehensive fashion based on a sensible goal.”

It’s not a done deal, in theory. The water board is taking comments from the public until March 5 and has scheduled a March 20 workshop to discuss the proposal.

Source: Central Valley Business Times