Turlockers will have an opportunity to comment on a controversial state proposal this week, which would drastically reduce available irrigation water to increasing salmon populations at the cost of hundreds of family farms.
State Water Board staff will be in Stanislaus County on Wednesday to speak about the proposal at a Middle San Joaquin Watershed Stakeholder meeting, where comment will be welcomed.
“The State is interested in speaking to people in the region that have an interest in, and could be affected by, the Water Board’s future actions regarding the flow proposal,” the agenda reads. “The Board would like to convey how important it is to for them to make an informed decision.”
That flow proposal would require the Turlock and Modesto Irrigation Districts to send 35 percent of Tuolumne River flows from February 1 through June 30 down the river, losing hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of irrigation water they would have otherwise diverted to Don Pedro Reservoir.
The San Joaquin Tributaries Authority, a coalition of water agencies including TID, estimates that lack of water would lead to over 220,000 acres of land fallowed in the Turlock, Modesto, and Merced Irrigation Districts in dry years – out of 319,000 acres serviced. SJTA projects the water loss would lead to a $187 million economic impact, including the loss of over 1,200 jobs and 800 family farms.
Environmental and fish groups have provided no estimates as to how much salmon populations might increase should additional flows be provided. But the groups argue that even more water is needed than the water board's suggested 35 percent.
The districts argue that non-native invasive fish species are responsible for the decline in salmon populations. According to TID research, 93 percent of juvenile salmon deaths on the Tuolumne River are caused by predation from non-native fish species like striped bass, rather than insufficient water flows.
A second presentation on Wednesday, from Stanislaus County Agricultural Commissioner Milton O'Hair, will focus on the uniqueness of the Central Valley, its agricultural economy, and the Agricultural Commissioner's role in protecting water resources.
The Middle San Joaquin Watershed Stakeholder Meeting will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. May 1, in rooms D and E of the Stanislaus County Agricultural Center, 3800 Cornucopia Way.