Earlier this month, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors heard a presentation from State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) staff on proposed changes to San Joaquin River flows and southern Delta water quality requirements included in the Water Quality Control Plan for the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary. Supervisors listened to Les Grober, Deputy Director for Water Rights from the State Water Resources Control Board about the details of the several thousand-page report that was released by the SWRCB in September outlining plans to take up to 50 percent of the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers, which many see as a thinly veiled effort to help build the Governor’s twin tunnels.
“This proposal lends credence to opponents’ concerns that the State would make the Eastside Tributary interests volunteer by force and give up a significant portion of the inflow to Eastside Reservoirs so that the tunnels will have a source of new water. In the same breath, the State Water Board also proposes to allow exporters to maintain worse water quality in the South Delta, which is detrimental to local Delta farmers and communities. As a result, we can only expect an even bleaker future for the Delta and our communities,” said District 2 Supervisor Katherine Miller.
Board chairman Moses Zapien of District 3 added, “Even though the Administration calls this proposal an attempt to recover fish populations, we see it as another covert attempt by the Governor to build the twin tunnels. The State is proposing to relax Delta water quality rules which could facilitate increased export pumping. Taking water away from the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus tributaries will not help fish as the Administration claims because history has shown that the decline of Delta fisheries is directly linked to unsustainable export rates.”
Export interests apparently cannot afford to mitigate for the impacts of their exports, pointed out District 1 Supervisor Carlos Villapudua.
“So the Brown Administration is forcing the issue and re-writing the rules for the benefit of his supporters in Southern California. If a local agency were to build a project and not mitigate their impacts, they should expect to be sued. Like local government, the State and Feds should be held accountable and should be required to mitigate their impacts to the Delta ecosystem. It seems rather unfair to shift that burden to our community or to the general taxpayer.”
Added District 5 Supervisor and Board Vice Chair Bob Elliott: “The State’s proposal to provide additional flows for fish will not result in a significant increase in salmon populations. The price our communities will pay if the State is allowed to take our water supplies, coupled with worsening of water quality in the southern Delta will be devastating. There are other far more cost-effective solutions out there.”
Supervisor Chuck Winn, who represents the Escalon area in District 4 on the county board, summarized the overall stance of the panel regarding the proposal.
“Nearly all Californians agree that a comprehensive Statewide water plan that enhances the health of the Delta is necessary; however, it is imperative that certain parts of the State not be benefited to the detriment of others,” Winn said. “The Board of Supervisors has long supported protecting local water rights, water quality and effective local groundwater management and understands that balancing a healthy Delta ecosystem while respecting senior water rights is a major pillar for any local, regional, or Statewide water solution. This latest scheme just seems like another tactic by the Administration to go around the process and get the tunnels built at any cost despite our continued opposition.”
The Board of Supervisors instructed County staff to:
Develop and submit comments and testimony at the Dec. 16 State Water Board Hearing in Stockton;
Develop and submit final written comments to the State Water Resources Control Board, SWRCB, by the Jan. 17, 2017 deadline;
Coordinate with local and regional stakeholders impacted by the SWRCB proposal to develop a more regional approach and work jointly to oppose the State’s proposal.