The strategy of the “regulatory-environmental perfectionist-Los Angeles water complex” is clear: Hammer the Northern San Joaquin Valley back into the Stone Age in order to save salmon.
The $70 million joke — 3,500 pages that took regulators populating desks in bureaucratic bunkers in Sacramento 10 years to fashion when they were directed to do it in half that time — known as the State Water Control Board plan is being trotted out Friday during a public meeting at 9 a.m. at the Stockton Civic Center.
To illustrate the level of contempt water bureaucrats have for the people of the Northern San Joaquin Valley they originally were not going to vet outside of Sacramento what is arguably the most significant state edict ever proposed impacting the 209 region in its entirety. The three public meetings — others are planned for Merced and Modesto — came about only after howls of protest from people whose future the state plans to drastically transform in order to yield what the state concedes will only be 600 more fish annually on the Stanislaus, Merced, and Tuolumne rivers.
Sacramento is framing this as the Holy Grail in its supposedly altruistic bid to save the salmon.
But let’s be crystal clear on one point: Salmon on the Stanislaus River as well as the Tuloumne and Merced rivers have fared much better than salmon on the Lower San Joaquin, Los Angeles, Santa Ana, Fresno, and Kings rivers to name a few.
On each of those rivers the state was complicit with pro-growth interests in the Los Angeles Basin as well as large corporate farms to reduce those rivers to sand dunes or dry concrete much of the year leaving salmon high and dry.
Water has flowed year round on the three rivers the state now has its sights on to “enhance” Delta water quality and “save” the salmon.
A strong case can be made that the people populating the South San Joaquin Irrigation District and Oakdale Irrigation District have already put a lot of money in play over the past 104 years to effectively protect the salmon at least when they are in the Stanislaus River.
Melones Reservoir built in 1925 assured water would be held back for farming after the wet season on the Stanislaus River watershed ended each year. It also saved water for fish flows in the summer and fall. Had the reservoir not been built fish would have been in a losing struggle with those employing riparian water rights to pump water to grow food.
The Tri-Dam Project by SSJID and OID further increased watershed storage capacity. The federal decision to inundate Melones Reservoir with New Melones Reservoir in the 1970s was a Johnny-Come-Lately water project. Based on the annual count of spawning adult salmon from 1950 to 2014 an argument could be made the presence of the federal component as well as how it changed river operations has resulted in somewhat tougher times for salmon on the Stanislaus River. That is a conclusion one would reach if you do what the state is now doing and exclude other significant factors from the mix such as how non-native predators are decimating salmon.
Data clearly shows the annual number of spawning salmon is cyclical. When the State Water Control Board started its work to “save” the salmon a decade ago spawning salmon on the Stanislaus River was on a downswing. Today the salmon population is on an upswing.
There is little doubt salmon need protecting. But at the same time water is essential for man.
The only way things can go back to “how nature intended” is to tear down all of the dams, blast apart the Delta levees, fill in the California Aqueduct, bulldoze most of Los Angeles, and send 36 million or so California residents packing.
What is needed is a sensible approach when it comes to the needs of man and the environment. The state’s track record when it comes to water and fish isn’t exactly a success. Instead of coming up with a plan in a vacuum, the state should look at what has gone right over the years on the Stanislaus River including successful SSJID-OID push backs on recent issues involving water releases that data clearly shows the positions staked out by the two irrigation districts had much better results for fish.
The SSJID and OID leadership for years have pursued a policy that being good stewards of the Stanislaus River and the fish within is in the best interests of the farmers and cities they serve. One big reason is the more vibrant the fish population the less likely the federal government will step in to control the river completely.
The Stanislaus as well as the Tuolumne and Merced are among the few rivers the state hasn’t screwed up. The same can’t be said for the Lower San Joaquin, Kings, Fresno, Los Angeles, and Sana Ana rivers.
The state plan being foisted on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers is myopic and one-dimensional. There are better approaches that are more holistic.
The state doesn’t care. They are like zombies. They must kill so the bureaucracy can live.
The state’s plan in the context of current drought conditions may result in 600 more fish a year in exchange for 360,000 acre feet of water that would fallow 240,000 acres in the 209, make thousands of jobs vanish and slam the Northern San Joaquin Valley economy with a $260 million economic loss
To modify a quote from Ronald Reagan, the 12 most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m From the State Water Control Board and I’m here to help.”
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.