Merced County Times Newspaper
The Power of Positive Press

Legislative bills pose new threat to water supply


By John M. Derby, The Times Publisher

& Jonathan Whitaker, Managing Editor

Years ago, when Tony Coelho was our Congressman, we asked him to name the No. 1 issue that was critical for California’s survival.

He did not hesitate, “WATER!”

Coelho was a Los Banos native who grew up working on his family’s dairy farm. He would become a powerful Democrat politician who understood that agriculture is, and has always been, the driving force which propels our state and local economies.

Today, it’s distressing to know that there are those in Sacramento who are taking tortuous action that endangers our very own prosperity.

For more than a decade, our community has been fighting to keep the State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento from stealing half our water supply and sending it north to the Bay Delta.

And now — this year — several bills have been injected into the State Legislature because the authors believe they need to “modernize” the water rights system in California. In reality, these bills do nothing of the sort.

Assembly Bills 460, 676, 1337 and Senate Bill 389 collectively would upend more than 150 years of established water law in California. If they are passed by the legislature, and signed into law by the governor, they would have a devastating impact on our community and our way of life in Merced County.

These bills each diminish our community’s ability to rely on our own water rights and the water rights of others from whom we purchase water — all while granting unprecedented power to the Water Board to investigate, limit, or effectively eliminate a vested water right in California.

They would:

  • Create uncertainty, both locally and statewide, about current and future water availability.
  • Cause a loss in opportunity to divert water into storage for future use.
  • Bring an end to due process for water managers when water right disputes arise.
  • Lead to potentially unnecessary and costly requirements that would be passed onto water users.

Under this kind of restriction and doubt, how can our fast-growing community move forward with new development along with the necessary assurances of water supply?

Merced is an exciting place to live right now with all its development and the flourishing UC Merced. Having a known water supply for our cities and our agricultural-based economy has never been more important.

The water stored in Lake McClure is especially vulnerable to the proposed legislation. The reservoir provides water supplies to approximately 2,200 local farmers in eastern Merced County. That in turn translates to nearly $1.5 billion in local economic activity, nearly half of Merced County’s $3.4 billion agricultural economic activity.

The water in Lake McClure represents the income for thousands of local families. It’s directly tied to food processing jobs, truckers and mechanics, veterinarians, financial management, insurance sales, and many others.

We join the Merced Irrigation District, the California Municipal Utilities Association and the Association of California Water Agencies in opposing Assembly Bills 460, 676, 1337 and Senate Bill 389.

We cannot allow these bills to pass. They are a direct threat to our current and future way of life.

We encourage every California Assembly member and Senator to oppose these bills in order to maintain water and economic stability in our community and every other community in the state.

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