Merced County Times Newspaper
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Assemblyman Gray responds to latest water grab legislation

Editor’s Note: The following release was provided to the Times by staff of the 21st Assembly District Office. 

Assemblymember Adam Gray, D-Merced, took the unusual step Tuesday of submitting a “hostile amendment” to Assembly Bill 2639 which, if enacted, would force Northern San Joaquin Valley irrigation districts to give up enormous amounts of water used by residents in their homes and farmers in their fields. 

“Environmental extremists are addicted to San Joaquin Valley water, and they are tired of waiting for their next fix,” Gray said in reference to AB 2639, written by Assemblymember Bill Quirk, D-Hayward. “My constituents won’t be sacrificial lambs.” 

Quirk’s bill achieves the goals of environmental lobbying groups who want to require the State Water Resources Control Board to adopt the flawed Bay-Delta water plan. The Board’s plan would force Northern San Joaquin Valley irrigation districts to more than double “unimpaired” flows on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers, sending roughly half of their flows into the Delta. 

Many communities – including Modesto, Manteca, Ripon, Lathrop, and even San Francisco – rely on treated water from the Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers to supply homes. Turlock and Ceres are nearing completion of a water-treatment facility that would also supply drinking water. All would have less water available if AB 2639 is enacted.

Losing river water will mean pumping more from underground – often leading to dry wells and water that fails to meet drinking water standards.

The city of East Porterville reported 1,600 domestic well failures in 2017. Others like Pixley and Avenal have been required to truck in bottled water, as have Ceres and Turlock, when naturally occurring pollutants become too concentrated. 

“These groups are not interested in negotiation or compromise,” said Gray. “All they want is our water and they do not care who gets hurt in the process. They have washed their hands of the thousands of families who will have their wells go dry, their drinking water contaminated, and their homes made worthless.”

Quirk’s bill, which could be voted on by Friday, is an end-run around negotiations for voluntary agreements. Urged on by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the state and Sacramento River water districts have reached agreements to increase flows by billions of gallons and devote millions of dollars to river and floodplain restoration projects. When that happened, the most extreme groups – such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and Restore the Delta – became angry and left the negotiating table. 

AB 2639 enshrines the approach preferred by radical groups, rejecting any negotiation in favor of decrees and blackmail. First, it requires water districts to accept the disputed flow levels preferred by the State Water Board. Second, it would make it illegal to approve any additional water diversions from the Delta until those flow levels are met – meaning if storage facilities like Sites Reservoir are built, they cannot be filled. 

 “They’re essentially trying to hold the entire state hostage to their demands – demands that would deprive my neighbors and constituents of drinking water and jobs,” said Gray.   

Gray’s amendment would add two provisions to the bill. First, it would require the State Water Board to evaluate the impacts the plan would have on groundwater basins that serve as the source of drinking water for thousands of households in the Valley. Second, it would nullify Quirk’s bill if the plan was found to hurts the drinking water supplies of the most impoverished communities in the state.

Quirk chairs the Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee, where he has killed most legislation that does not match his environmental agenda. 

Gray was not surprised that AB 2639 was written by an East Bay resident – who doesn’t want Gray’s amendment attached (hence, it’s called “hostile”).

“Their incredible hypocrisy is on full display,” said Gray. “Despite lip service about protecting vulnerable populations, they are fighting my amendments that would block their bill from going into effect because it jeopardizes the drinking water supplies of the poorest communities in the state.

“Using environmental laws in a way that sacrifices majority-minority communities for the benefit of others is a prime example of environmental racism,” said Gray.

Earlier this year, Gray asked the Joint Legislative Committee to authorize an audit of California’s water agencies – the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Board – after they incorrectly estimated the runoff from the Sierra Nevada snowpack and mistakenly released more than 625,000 acre-feet from Lake Oroville to make room for water that never arrived.

As California’s drought deepened, those premature releases cost South Valley farmers their anticipated irrigation allocations and contributed to a higher-than-usual loss of juvenile salmon on the Sacramento River. Meanwhile, runoff modeling done by local agencies was much more accurate, leaving those agencies with more water to use.

Gray says that without an audit we won’t know what went wrong or how to fix it. 

“This is all part of the same problem,” said Gray. “The state doesn’t have enough water during drought and doesn’t know how to take care of the water it has. Around here, we understand the value of water. 

“Instead of helping California figure out better ways to save water, save the environment, save fish and save farmers, they’re coming after the only water left in the state. They’re not going to get it.” 

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