Merced Irrigation District sues CA over Bay-Delta plan

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MID owns and operates Lake McClure on the Merced River and supplies water to approximately 2,200 agricultural producers on approximately 132,000 acres in eastern Merced County.

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As the National Water Resources Control Board moves forward with its plan to divert water from the Merced River, Merced Irrigation District officials are trying to involve the public in preventing what they call a “water intake”.

Bay Delta’s water quality control plan is the subject of a lawsuit filed in Merced County Superior Court in December 2018, which the irrigation district said was the only remedy it had after years of unsuccessful negotiations with state water officials.

“It’s a setup as far as I’m concerned,” said John Sweigard, general manager of the Merced Irrigation District. “They want water from this part of the state to go to other parts of the state and they’ve been smart and shrewd in how they’ve done that.”

The Bay Delta Water Quality Monitoring Plan was introduced by the National Water Resources Control Board several years ago to improve salmon populations and water quality in the delta of the bay.

But MID officials say the plan will take up to half of eastern Merced County’s water supply from Lake McClure and send it north to the Bay Delta, according to a MID press release.

From there, water can be exported to other farms and towns in the state.

“It’s very real. (The state) said they weren’t going to negotiate it,” MID spokesman Mike Jensen said.

Calls from the Sun-Star to the National Water Resources Control Board were not immediately returned on Friday.

If the water diversions go as planned, MID officials said residents of the Atwater, Merced and Livingston areas will feel the effects.

This could include reduced drinking water quality and supply, less water in local waterways – as well as fewer recreational opportunities at McClure and McSwain Lakes, including camping, fishing and boating, according to the release.

MID officials said water reductions could also have a negative impact on the economy and jobs.

As a result, MID officials set up a “Save Merced’s Water” website to collect residents’ signatures to prevent hijackings from moving forward.

Residents can also write a letter to the site governor.

The plan is meant to protect the habitat

According to the agenda for the Dec. 8 meeting of the State Water Board, the Bay Delta watershed is a crucial part of the state’s water system and provides habitat for multiple species of economic, cultural, and ecological.

The plan is supposed to protect fish and wildlife in the Lower San Joaquin River and the three main salmon tributaries of the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers.

At this point, it’s unclear exactly how much water, in acre-feet, the state would take from the Merced River.

The plan is also supposed to institute protections for salmon in the Sacramento River, tributaries on the east side of the delta, including the Calaveras, Consumnes and Mokelumne rivers.

MID says they have already told State Water Board officials that taking the flow from the Merced River will not improve salmon runs.

Much of the Merced River’s natural floodplain has been carved into towns and farms, MID officials said. The MID says salmon spawning and rearing habitat has been destroyed in recent decades by state-sanctioned mechanical mining.

District officials say they have made efforts to restore salmon habitat in eastern Merced County in recent years and have proposed an alternative settlement agreement with the state to support salmon habitats on the Merced River, which former Governor Jerry Brown and Governor Gavin Newsom said they welcomed. .

One of the irrigation district’s solutions, the Salmon, Agriculture, Streams and Environment Plan (or SAFE Plan), introduced in 2016, would immediately increase water flows in the Merced River during key life cycle events. salmon, according to the MID.

The SAFE plan also advocated for the restoration of five miles of salmon habitat on the river, proposed solutions to reduce consumption of juvenile salmon by bass, and made investments in the Merced River Salmon Hatchery.

However, the State Water Board rejected the plan, saying the plan did not release enough water.

The State Water Board then approved the plan in 2018. Merced Irrigation District officials later received a message from the state, saying the State Water Board was finished trying to negotiate settlement agreements and was moving forward. with the Bay Delta plan.

“Voluntary actions proposed by water agencies on tributaries of the San Joaquin River had not provided the necessary flow and habitat improvements,” State Water Board Chairman Joaquin Esquivel said.

Local irrigation officials disagreed with this assessment. “The Bay Delta Plan and its water intake in eastern Merced County have been discussed and planned for years,” Sweigard said.

“It has become clear that the planning is complete and the actions to take your water are about to begin.”

Jensen went on to say that the Bay Delta’s water quality issues are not caused by residents of eastern Merced County, and that pollution and illegal diversions are among the top issues facing the bay delta faces.

“Our view is that we didn’t create their water quality issues,” Jensen said. “It should not be our responsibility to bear the brunt of repairing them.”

Still, the state plan has its supporters. Some speakers at the Dec. 8 State Water Board meeting urged the board to move forward, saying existing protections for salmon don’t go far enough.

“Current water quality monitoring plan goals do not adequately protect beneficial uses of fish and wildlife,” said Gary Bobker, program director at the Bay Institute, headquartered in New York.

“I hope there is a sense of urgency within the board to get this done. One of this country’s most magnificent ecosystems is in danger.

Residents can visit MID’s “Save Merced Water” website by visiting mercedid.org/index.cfm/water/save-merced-s-water/

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