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Twilight Zone: State Water Control Board & saving fish
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The lunacy of California water regulations and how the Sacramento burecarcy functions in a Twilight Zone that would turn Rod Sterling’s hair white with fright can be found in the 3,500 page, $70 million report 10 years in the making that was issued by the State Water Control Board.
The report — supposedly an end all examination of how to increase the combined steelhead count on the Stanislaus, Tuloumne, and Merced rivers by 1,000 a year — contains a solution for farmers and cities that will be victimized by substantially increasing unimpaired flows in the three rivers between February and June to 40 percent.
The State Water Board’s solution for commandeering 300,000 acre feet of water that in a normal water year will fallow 24,000 acres of farmland by their own admission but in drought years that we are now experiencing will send the number of acres not producing food soaring to 250,000 acres or more? It’s pump more groundwater.
Apparently the State Water Board is unaware of the directive of their bosses — Governor Brown and the California Legislature — that mandates groundwater stability. That means regional basins in a few years will not be able to pump more water out of aquifers than is replenished in a given year.
How does the flippant State Water Board mitigation to prevent economic Armageddon in the Northern San Joaquin Valley square with reality? It doesn’t. That’s because the nearly 10 different state agencies that have a say in one form or another in water matters in California operate in their own little vacuums.
The bottom line is the State Water Board doesn’t care. They’ve issued their marching orders. One thousand fish are more important than 1.5 million people in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Merced counties and the millions upon millions of more people the region grows food to feed.
Actually 1,000 more fish are more important than every other living creature and piece of vegetation in the 4,913 square miles of the 209 region that will be impacted by such a massive shift of water.
You have to ask yourself one question: Why are fish — no matter the circumstance — the sacred cows of California?
A few years back when the Army Corps of Engineer wanted to dredge the Los Angeles River to reduce flooding a number of state agencies went ballistic. Not only did they scream that a full-scale environmental report was needed but that the plan was going to desecrate an ecological system.
It sounds semi-reasonable until you realize the channel the Corps wanted to dredge had been lined with concrete for years. It was essentially a sand bar created on top of that cement that the state was claiming was part of the fish ecological system  that could not be disturbed.
So how is that different from what’s going on now? Development as in farms, homes, cities, and water infrastructure that the state wants to devastate in the name of fish are all part of an ecological system. If that sounds like blasphemy to environmental perfectionists, then how is man different than a mountain lion that has to kill other animals for food, deer that get their nutrition from nibbling on vegetation, or beavers that need to build dams?
They do all of those things to survive just like humans do.
At the same time the developed water systems of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District and neighboring agencies predates converting the Los Angeles River into a glorified concrete canal.
That said, there is one big problem with all of the contortions the state is undertaking to take more water now for fish.
The SSJID — along with Oakdale Irrigation District — have been diverting water that the state now wants for fish for almost 100 years. In fact, their building of the Tri-Dam Project 60 years ago increased water availability for fish during the critical summer and late fall months. It wasn’t the state’s handiwork.
So what led to the acceleration of the decrease of steelhead when SSJID and OID actually put in place infrastructure that made sure the Stanislaus had adequate flows for fish year round?
Could it be the introduction of insatiable non-native predators such as bass or the federal decision — with the state’s blessing — to build the New Melones Reservoir that required inundating the original Melones Dam built by the SSJID and OID in 1926.
Not even those who make a living scaring the hell out of people for entertainment like Sterling or his brethren that incudes the likes of Stephen King or Alfred Hitchcock would dare fashion a plot like the State Water Board has that can’t hold water when it comes to logic.

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 or 209.249.3519.