Pete Rietkerk wishes he was embellishing the figures.
In connecting the dots in the State Water Resources Control Board’s 3,500-plus page document aimed at increasing the overall number of salmon in the Stanislaus, Tuloumne and Merced rivers by 1,000 each year, those fish will come at the collective cost of $260 million from those that are part of the 209 economy.
That’s $260,000 per fish. But once the ultimate bottom line the state is shooting for — an increase in spawning fish that make it to the ocean — the 350,000 acre feet of water they will take from the three rivers will yield 220 fish. That puts the effective cost weighed against the economic loss the state is predicting each year in the 209 region at $1.1 million for each surviving salmon.
The South San Joaquin Irrigation District general manager said while his agency and other water purveyors throughout the region believe the numbers the state is projecting in terms of the impact on the economy, agriculture, and water left over for Northern San Joaquin Valley cities are on the “extreme” low side they nevertheless makes it clear what Sacramento is proposing will have a financial impact on the region’s 1.5 million residents.
Speaking before the Manteca Rotary meeting Thursday at Ernie’s Rendezvous Room, Reitkerk used data from the state report that calls for an increase of unimpaired flows to 40 percent on the three rivers between February and June to try and bolster salmon population and improve Delta water quality to outline the impacts of the state plan.
If it the state plan were in place for the current water year:
uThe SSJID would only have 105,000 acre feet of water or a 64 percent reduction in supplies.
uThat would limit farm water deliveries to 56,000 acres to 12 inches per acre of water. Almonds, as one example, need 36 inches of water just to stay alive.
uBetween 2,300 and 6,200 acres of farmland around Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon would be fallowed.
uThe 193,000 urban water customers SSJID provides for in Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy would see a 64 percent cutback in surface water deliveries.
uGiven the pending state mandate concerning groundwater sustainability, the cities couldn’t simply pump more well water and would be forced to stop issuing building permits and put severe water conservation measures in place.
uThe three cities with SSJID water cutbacks would have $127 million in stranded capital costs due to water sales being cutback 64%. They would have to cover including bond debt and ongoing operational costs meaning water customers in Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy would experience significant rate increases.
More realistic losses
being pegged at $1.6B
Overall, the state concedes a minimal impact to the three-county region as $260 million annually in a normal year of rain and snow with agriculture taking a $64 million hit.
Reitkerk believes the farm loss has been kept artificially low by the state to make the plan more palatable points to the use of economic data that is a decade old. He pointed to a 2012 study involving the Tuolumne River watershed that should such a plan for 40 percent unimpaired flows would slam agricultural in the region with $1.6 billion in losses.
“And this is being all done without any mitigations proposed by the state,” Rietkerk noted.
The state’s projection of losses from farming is cushioned by the assumption that farmers will increase ground water pumping to offset some of the loss of surface water. That goes contrary to any state edict that pumping from groundwater basins can’t exceed what is returned to it in a given year.
The situation is made even grimmer by the state’s demand that more water be left in reservoirs year round as cold water pools for fish. That calls for New Melones Reservoir that has a 2.4 million acre foot capacity to go no lower than 700,000 acre feet of water at any given time. New Melones on Tuesday was at 511,911 acre feet. That means had the state plan be in effect, water releases to SSJID and Oakdale Irrigation District likely would have stopped in June this year to avoid the reservoir from dropping as low as it has.
The state also wants a permanent cold water pool of 800,000 acre feet at Don Pedro (39 percent of capacity) and 300,000 acre feet at McClure Lake (29 percent of capacity).
Rietkerk notes the state assumes it can legally seize control of reservoirs built by local property taxpayers such as the Tri-Dam Project owned and operated by SSJID and Oakdale Irrigation District without a penny of state or federal funds in order to implement water storage needs for their cold pool strategy for fish.
That is on top of the third phase of the state plan that entails going after adjudicated water rights if they can’t negotiate a deal with impacted irrigation districts.
Fish count goes up
thanks to trucking
Rietkerk noted there are other less draconian ways to address increasing the number of salmon. That includes targeting non-native fish such as bass that are significant predators of salmon as well as enhancing fish habitats.
He pointed to fish counts on the Stanislaus River that showed salmon numbers at Riverbank dived down to 5,422 in 2013 as the drought deepened. But in 2015 when reservoir water levels were at their lowest, the number of salmon shot up to 12,621. They are expected to exceed that this year. The reason is simple. Salmon are being trucked to the Bay edge of the Delta and released bypassing predators.
The SSJID is part of the San Joaquin River Tributaries Association fighting the state plan. Other members are Turlock Irrigation District, OID, Modesto Irrigation District and the City and County of San Francisco.
The State Water Control Board after first refusing to have meetings in the Northern San Joaquin Valley to receive public input has relented and scheduled three of them.
They are 9 a.m. each day on:
uFriday, Dec. 16, at the Stockton Civic Auditorium
uMonday, Dec. 19, at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center
uWednesday, Dec. 20, at Modesto Centre Plaza