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SSJID: Plan is about taking water, period

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POSTED October 20, 2016 1:17 a.m.

It’s about taking water and not about fish.
South San Joaquin Irrigation District General Manager Peter Rietkerk made it clear that is the district’s view of the State Water Board move to mandate unimpaired flows of 40 percent on the Stanislaus, Merced, and Tuolumne rivers between February and June. Rietkerk spoke before the Ripon Rotary Club at its Wednesday noon meeting at Spring Creek Country Club.
Rietkerk said the non-native striped bass have just as much impact on the salmon and the steelhead as does the flow and temperature of the water that has continued to run down the river during the drought. 
“It’s a one-sided effort to take the water – not the fish,” he stressed. 
That devastating impact of what the state is pursuing has been compared to the Los Angeles Water and Power taking the water from the Owens Valley on the east side of the Sierra in Southern California almost a century ago..
The irrigation season just ended on Oct. 14 with water allocations reduced or relaxed in August due to low consumption.  He noted conservation efforts allowed a 16 percent reduction in treated water deliveries to Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy urban users.
Currently there is a 40-inch allocation for agricultural irrigation.
Rietkerk pointed out that a weakening La Nina provides some hope for a wetter winter but it could also indicate only a shift in climate.  The 2017 hydrologic outlook and water supply estimate, according to Mike Anderson, state climatologist is anticipating a 150 percent of average snow pack in the Sierra and between 130 and 150 percent of precipitation in the watershed that feed the state’s major reservoirs. 
Anderson made his estimate after studying the conditions that ended droughts in 1938, 1978 and 1993 that might rule out a sixth year in the current drought cycle.
Rietkerk presented a Power Point map of the United States that showed a three month temperature outlook across the South and a three month participation outlook that tended to promise more precipitation to come as it stretched across the lower U.S
In its attempt to stand up against the state water board’s aggressive policies against the existing water districts and their water sources, Rietkerk pointed out that the SSJID has the responsibility to protect the rights that have been held in trust for property owners in the region for over 107 years. 
SSJID owns pre-1914 senior water rights on the Stanislaus River that was confirmed through legal adjudication in 1929. 
Just last month the State Water Resources Control Board issued its revised draft of the Substitute Environmental Document (SED) for Phase One of the WQCP Update.  It is a 3,500 page document outlining proposed major changes to storage and water rights on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers in order to increase “unimpaired flows” through the Delta and bolster fishery and water quality benefits, Rietkerk added.
The state proposal recommends that 30 to 50 percent of what naturally flows into the tributaries during February to June bypass the reservoirs and flow out of the Delta.  It will start at 40 percent and proposes adaptive management to undermined biological objectives. 
It also suggests that surface water reductions will be met through increased groundwater pumping without any consideration of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and also proposes to require minimum storage requirements in local reservoirs in order to preserve cold water pools and river temperatures.  The New Melones Reservoir is to have a minimum of 700,000 acre feet, Don Pedro, 800,000 acre feet and Lake McClure 300,000 acre feet. 
The impact of the proposal and its average 300,000 acre feet in water supply reductions promise to bring significant total regional economic losses of $260 million, agricultural losses of $64 million including the loss of agricultural jobs in the region.  The Tuolumne River losses are estimated to be $1.6 billion, he said.
Some 24,000 acres of prime farmland will be fallowed across the region with up to 250,000 acres during drought years becoming fallow without crops, he noted.  The results in unsustainable groundwater management, relying on an additional 105,000 acre feet of ground water pumping can be expected, he said, with a loss in the operable regional surface water storage.
He said there will also be a loss in hydropower generation and revenue, shifting generation to low consumption months.
The SSJID chief asked Rotarians and the community to join their effort to oppose the state’s overreaching water grab, “Save the Stan Campaign.”  A letter writing campaign opposing the unimpaired flow initiative is asking the service club members to get their letters written and off to the state water resource board.  The comments from the public have a deadline of January 2017. 
“Get the word out – this affects our way of life and our water supply for our future generations,” he said. “The potential impacts are stifling for businesses, jobs, development and growth.”
State water board public hearings are set for Dec. 16 in Stockton, Dec. 19 in Merced at the Multicultural Arts Center and Dec. 20 in Modesto at the Modesto Center Plaza.  They all are scheduled to start at 9 a.m. 

To contact Glenn Kahl, email gkahl@mantecabulletin.com.

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