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South SJ County mayors warn state water plan will hurt our communities
letter to editor

As mayors from Escalon, Lathrop, Manteca, Ripon and Tracy representing more than 210,000 residents in southern San Joaquin County, we cannot sit idly by while the state attempts to unfairly steal our region’s water supplies away from the Stanislaus River and other tributaries to the San Joaquin River. If you are a resident of our communities, you should be very concerned about what the State Water Resources Control Board wants to do. Here’s why:

The state plans to flow billions of gallons more water each year down local rivers and out of the hands of locally responsible irrigation and water districts.  This would be a deliberate, devastating and completely avoidable blow to our region’s economy, which relies on those crucial water supplies. Experts estimate peak losses of as much as $3.2 billion annually across San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties.

The economic ripple effect touches more than just our local farmers. Agribusiness is the backbone of our economy, but many other industries and associated vendors that our cities support are deeply intertwined with it. As many as 13,000 jobs across all sectors would be put at risk. Cities also would feel the pinch as property values and the tax base shrinks due to a lack of reliable water.

The state’s plan also would roll back regional efforts to sustainably manage groundwater. Today, more than 190,000 people in Manteca, Lathrop and Tracy receive treated surface water from the Stanislaus River because of a forward-thinking arrangement between those cities and the South San Joaquin Irrigation District (SSJID). Along with Escalon, these local cities invested so that our region would have high-quality, safe, affordable and reliable drinking water to support our residents and businesses.  Any state-imposed surface water reductions SSJID faces would be passed on equally to its rural and urban customers –increasing the amount of water required to be pumped from underground to make up for it. That makes no sense.

The state’s efforts would negatively impact our cities’ ability to grow for years to come. Cities are required by law to identify water supplies before new industrial or residential development is approved. Without access to reliable surface water provided by SSJID or sustainably managed groundwater, cities would be confronted with an ongoing regulatory drought and few water supply alternatives. 

Our region spoke out against this ill-conceived plan in 2016, conveying all of these concerns and proposing solutions. 

Regional irrigation districts have invested millions of dollars on fishery science and implemented solutions to enhance fish populations in our local rivers, proving that habitat restoration and predator suppression efforts are every bit as important for salmon as precisely timed water releases in the spring and fall.  Cities did our part and complied with state-mandated conservation and cutbacks during the most recent drought.

Still, state officials have turned blind eyes and deaf ears to our widespread concerns, rationalizing that the small fishery benefit is worth every bit of our region’s huge sacrifice. Sadly, despite thousands of comments received from people in this area at public hearings or via email, the water board hasn’t made any significant changes in its proposal. 

What can we do to stop this impending catastrophe? There are two opportunities next week in Sacramento. 

The first comes Monday at noon on the north steps of the State Capitol. Our regional legislative contingent, led by Assemblyman Adam Gray, has organized a protest rally intended to get the attention of the state’s political leaders and media. Speakers representing many of those who would be affected – agribusiness, civic and faith leaders, everyday citizens, educators, health officials – will come together to forcefully demand that the water board reconsider its plan.

Free bus service is being arranged by the San Joaquin County Farm Bureau. A bus will leave its office at 10:30 a.m. Monday to take people to the rally. The Farm Bureau is at 3290 N. Ad Art Road in Stockton. Riders must reserve their seat by calling (209) 931-4931.

The second chance to protest involves public hearings scheduled to begin Tuesday and Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at the water board’s chambers at 1001 I Street in downtown Sacramento. While our concerns do not appear to resonate with the water board members, this may be the last opportunity our region has to address and convince the water board to consider other plan alternatives. 

We stand together with many of our region’s cities, counties and irrigation districts in imploring the water board to develop more balanced alternatives for salmon restoration efforts that consider non-flow measures.  This area’s agricultural and urban constituents all rely on the Stanislaus River to provide the resources necessary for the life and vitality of our region.  We encourage our citizens to lend your voices and participate in urging the state water board to reject this plan.