Federal Officials Critical of California’s Latest Water Proposal

Brian GermanAgri-Business, Water

The latest water proposal from the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) is drawing criticism from several sources, including the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI).  The plan calls for 40 percent of unimpaired flows on the Tuolumne, Stanislaus and Merced rivers between February and June.  Opponents of SWRCB’s proposal have argued that the plan would have significant consequences for agricultural operations that rely on those water systems.Latest Water Proposal

In a letter addressed to SWRCB Chairwoman Felicia Marcus issued by DOI, the agency raises several concerns.  The proposed plans for unimpaired flows “appear to directly interfere with the New Melones Project’s ability to store water. The Board amendments essentially elevate the Project’s fish and wildlife purposes over the Project’s irrigation and domestic purposes contrary to the prioritization scheme carefully established by Congress.”

In light of the concerns raised in the letter, the DOI has made the recommendation for SWRCB to postpone the upcoming public meeting that is scheduled to begin August 21.  U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke will also continue to fully review the SWRCB’s plan and following his due diligence, the Secretary has the authority to request the U.S. Attorney General bring an action against the SWRCB if it is found to be necessary.

Secretary Zinke recently made visits to Don Pedro and New Melones reservoirs after a request from Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock.  Secretary Zinke spoke to the press about the issue of spending ratepayer money on multiple scientific studies that never seem to be satisfactory.  “In this instance, millions and millions of dollars have been spent on a permitting project that could be spent better and wiser on other areas,” said Zinke.

Representative Denham has been one of many vocal critics of the latest water proposal. He took issue with the impact the plan would have on agriculture, as well as the SWRCB‘s response to scientific findings. “After a decade and millions of our money spent on a study that they required, the board ignored the science-based proposal that would save our fish while preserving our water rights,” Denham said in a statement.  “Sacramento’s radical water grab would cripple the Central Valley’s economy, farms and community.”

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West