Over the past decade, San Joaquin County and Delta stakeholders have spent thousands of hours fighting the Governor’s Twin Tunnels project, officially called WaterFix. This water transfer plan would have a disastrous effect on the agricultural industry in the region, and estimated costs have ballooned to $20+ billion. Unfortunately, the State is now pursuing yet another devastating water grab that is quietly making its way through the regulatory process.
The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) will soon consider Phase 1 of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Plan update (Revised Plan). If approved, the Revised Plan will require increased flows for the San Joaquin River and its tributaries for the benefit of fisheries and will cause multi-billion-dollar annual losses to our region’s economy. Given the enormity of what’s at stake, it’s essential for the State to understand that unreasonable increases in required river flows are misguided and could lead to severe and irreversible impacts to our region.
As recently explained by a State representative, balancing the water needs of fish against the needs of local water users is “hard to do.” However, little consideration of such balance is reflected in the Revised Plan. The environmental analysis concludes that the Revised Plan would only increase the annual salmon count on the order of hundreds per year. This benefit seems disproportionately small when compared to the devastating loss of regional water supplies, diminished agricultural production, and the severe economic and community impacts that would result.
The Revised Plan also allows for increased San Joaquin River salinity in the South Delta, arguing that no adverse impacts to water users would result. San Joaquin County stakeholders have presented expert testimony and evidence pointing to numerous flaws in the analysis and have demonstrated that significant impacts would indeed occur, such as serious adverse impacts to South Delta agriculture and complication of operations for the City of Stockton’s water and wastewater plants. The SWRCB summarily dismisses these facts.
The San Joaquin County cities of Stockton, Manteca, Tracy, Lathrop, and Escalon, and hundreds of thousands of acres of surrounding farmland in and around the Delta rely on the Stanislaus River. Our local economy and communities are built around access to reliable water supplies, backed by the oldest and most senior water rights in the State. Without the water resources we have relied on over the past century, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world will suffer a serious financial hit with a domino effect of negative impacts.
SWRCB staff have dismissed numerous, more balanced proposals by San Joaquin watershed interests in recent years, which have included non-flow fishery enhancement strategies that have been demonstrated to be effective in rivers such as the Mokelumne. Our concerns have mostly fallen on deaf ears because the State prefers to force a solution that promotes increased exports via the Twin Tunnels, rather than finding a solution that works for everyone in the region. State officials must have the political courage to abandon the destructive WaterFix proposal and instead unite Californians around common-sense solutions that effectively meet our statewide water needs.
We agree that balancing the needs of fish and wildlife with the needs of local farmers and residents is difficult. However, dismantling the water rights of our region is an unjustifiable attack on our communities and way of life. Before the SWRCB considers any further action on the Revised Plan and the future plan being developed for the Sacramento River watershed, it should carefully evaluate alternative approaches that better balance environmental and water supply needs. The current “increase flows only” approach is merely another State water grab that will result in the loss of millions of acre-feet of water supplies for our region, while delivering only marginal environmental benefits.
Bob Elliott is Chairman of the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors representing District 5.