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Destroying the 209 for 1,000 fish

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POSTED October 17, 2016 12:43 a.m.

Flawed is too weak of a word to describe the State Water Board’s 3,500-page report that should be called the “Guide Book to Destroying the Economy, Ecological Systems & Health of the People of San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced Counties.”

If developers, dairy farmers, oil firms, or other classes of people or businesses disdained by the myopic entrenched Sacramento bureaucracy had proposed what the State Water Board wants to do to the 209 region there would have been a howl of indignation on Capitol Mall so loud that it would reverberate through the valley like a 9.0 earthquake.

It’s not simply the fact the state concedes by kicking up unimpaired flows on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers to 40 percent between February and June to possibly increase steelhead population on the three rivers by 1,000 to 4,000 fish will mean at least 240,000 acres of farmland would never grow food again, a minimum of 3,000 direct jobs would be lost, and the economic loss going forward on an annual basis would be a minimum of $260 million.

The state fails — as they would require any water agency planning such a movement of water — to identify and mitigate impacts. What Sacramento is saying is that 3,000 families losing the ability to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as well as taking an area almost equivalent to San Francisco and the surface area of Lake Tahoe being forced out of food production is insignificant compared to the chance 1,000 more steelhead will survive.

It doesn’t end there. The proposed cold water pool — a minimum floor for storage at New Melones, McClure and Don Pedro reservoirs — doesn’t take into consideration on how it will force farmers that manage to still stay standing so the state can pat itself on the back for growing steelhead population by 1,000 fish to start pumping groundwater.

And let’s be honest — since Sacramento isn’t. They act like taking 240,000 acres out of agricultural production is no big deal.

What it will do is:

udevastate property tax bases throughout the 209 that is part of the state’s poorest region. It will do that in two ways. Limited water to support exiting urbanization and no water to support growth will send property values down significantly as it has in other areas that have experienced cutbacks in water supplies that make it impossible to sustain existing development. It also means the tax value of 260,000 acres of farmland will plummet.

udrastically cut off funding for non-profits throughout the 209 that help at-risk kids, hungry children, struggling families, as well as those that provide services such as organized sports. If the state doubts this, just ask local non-profits in Manteca. Agricultural-based donors make up at least 10-percent of giving. Imagine what it is like in communities that are heavily dependent on farming.

ufarm irrigation — especially flood irrigation — recharges groundwater tables. That coupled with farmers forced to switch to existing pumps to survive will drop groundwater tables. That in turns means shallow wells — those supporting stand-alone rural homes or hobby farms — will run dry.

uwetlands will be destroyed on a wholesale basis. The State Water Board makes no mention of how their water proposal will violate Army Corps of Engineers regulations regarding established manmade wetlands. The City of Manteca last month had to pay $300,000 to eliminate “wetlands” that were essentially a South San Joaquin Irrigation District outlet canal. With farm irrigation stopping to 240,000 acres it will result in the largest 21st century destruction of wetlands that in turn will slash the ranks of small animals, other fish and plant life significantly.

ucreate massive dust bowls in the 209. If you doubt that, read what a similar massive diversion of water did to the southern Owens Valley less than 90 years ago. It created what is now considered the nation’s worst induced dust problem. Dust goes so high it has periodically forced the suspension of operations at China Lake Naval Weapons Center, forced commercial airlines to reroute, and increased dust at the 10,000 plus foot level in the bristlecone forests — the oldest living things on earth — in the White Mountain. Scientific readings show at Keeler dust particles were 23 times greater than the federal maximum set for health reasons. Sixty miles away in Ridgecrest similar unhealthy conditions have occurred as many as 10 times a year. And much of that dust contains unsafe levels of particles such as arsenic.

When all is said and done, the state — in its myopic zest to go with increasing water flows when other options such as addressing non-native predators and restoring fish habitat haven’t been considered — will imperil the economy of the 209, send food prices upward, bring subsidence to this part of the San Joaquin Valley, make it impossible for heads of households in the state’s poorest region to feed and clothe their families, and destroy people’s health.

To Sacramento, that is a reasonable tradeoff so they can possibly have 1,000 more steelhead to count each year between three rivers.

Ronald Reagan nailed it. The nine most terrifying words in the English language are indeed,    “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

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