Farmers, laborers, students, citizens and even lawmakers opposed to a plan they believe will disrupt Northern California’s water supply demonstrated on the steps of the State Capitol on Monday, urging the State Water Resources Control Board to reject the proposal that would cut water use for the benefit of fish and wildlife.
Nearly 1,500 people from all walks of life stood shoulder-to-shoulder at the steps of the capitol building on Aug. 20 to fight for the Central Valley’s very lifeblood: Water. Central Valley leaders and candidates from every level of government attended regardless of their party affiliations. Republicans including Jeff Denham, Tom McClintock, Heath Flora, Vito Chiesa and Kristin Olsen stood in solidarity with Democrats like Jim Costa, Rudy Salas, Anna Caballero and Assemblyman Adam Gray, who organized the rally.
“Fighting the state water grab has to be our number one priority. I’m proud of everyone who came to or supported the rally that was for our region, our economy and our very way of life,” said Congressman Jeff Denham, who represents Escalon, Oakdale and Riverbank in the 10th Congressional District.
Virtually every city in the district was represented. Whether it was local elected officials, students from local FFA chapters or business owners, they all stood in solidarity with the growers, ranchers and dairy operators in attendance from all over the Central Valley.
Despite vehement opposition from a broad coalition of local governments and organizations, the water board in July released its third and final draft of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan update, which calls for allocation of 40 percent of unimpaired flows along the lower San Joaquin River and its tributaries – the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers – to help rehabilitate the area’s native fish species.
The plan is the result of a nine-year process that has been met with resistance from water stakeholders and their elected officials every step of the way, with many famers and local water agencies feeling as if the Board has indeed waged a water war on the San Joaquin Valley.
When the first draft of the plan was released in September 2016, hundreds of legislators, water and agricultural leaders, agency representatives and community members addressed the Board three months later in Modesto, sharing the potential impacts the water decision could have on both farmers and the community at large.
“I would offer up to you today that no one in this room thinks 40 or 50 percent unimpaired flows is a balanced approach,” Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa told the Board at that 2016 public hearing. “People are scared. They really are with what this can do to them, what this can do to the Valley. Please listen to the people.”
Meanwhile, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s recent visits to Don Pedro and New Melones Reservoirs at the request of Rep. Denham seems poised to achieve results for the Valley, with Secretary Zinke issuing an internal memo Friday declaring the state’s proposed water grab an “unacceptable restriction” that reduces the Department of the Interior’s ability to deliver water and directing his agencies to propose a plan within 25 days to maximize water supply, construct new water storage, and resolve issues with the state, among other directives.
“After our tour of local reservoirs, Secretary Zinke recognizes that Sacramento’s water grab would cripple our communities, farms and water storage infrastructure,” said Denham. “Our water, our water rights, and our future depend on stopping this wasteful plan.”
The grassroots effort on Aug. 20 saw a unified group storm the State Capitol to once again plead its case with the Board.
“We want the rest of the state to see how important the Valley is,” Denham added. “Water affects more than just agriculture … it’s our recreation, it’s our power, it’s our drinking water. You take 40 percent of it, we’ll not only have less of it but the quality of water will go down with it. We want the entire state to understand how this new decision will impact us and that we’re going to fight back.”
Along with the Monday rally, the public was encouraged to attend and make comments at the State Water Board’s hearing for the Bay-Delta Plan update, which was scheduled to be hosted Tuesday, Aug. 21 in the Cal EPA Building, 1001 I St. in Sacramento.
For more information, visit www.worthyourfight.org.
Times Editor Marg Jackson contributed to this report.