Merced Irrigation District Invites Governor To Learn About Bay Delta Plan Impacts
Editor’s Note: Merced Irrigation District General Manager John Sweigard issued the following open invitation to California Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday:
“For years, we have worked in good faith with the State Water Board, your secretaries and your staff. Despite our best efforts, and backed by solid science about salmon and the Merced River, we have not been able to reach a settlement agreement that would protect our community’s water supply under the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan.
“I would like to personally invite you to come to our community and learn firsthand about the tremendous amount of work we have undertaken to support salmon on the Merced River, as well as the impacts the Bay Delta Plan would have on our already disadvantaged communities.
“We believe there are still alternatives to the Bay Delta Plan that could benefit the state’s goals while still protecting our community’s water supply.”
Lake McClure is owned and operated by Merced Irrigation District. The reservoir is located in the Sierra Nevada foothills. It provides local water supply, flood control, hydroelectric generation, support of the statewide electric grid, and water for the local environment and wildlife preserves. The water from Lake McClure is crucial for helping replenish local groundwater used by cities and provides water to farmers in eastern Merced County.
MID’s invitation to Governor Newsom follows a meeting by the State Water Resources Control Board on Dec. 8. During the meeting, discussion ensued about the state’s plans to divert water from Lake McClure to the Bay Delta. Numerous organizations lobbied for the State Water Board to move quickly. Some speakers called on the State Water Board to begin diverting water from Lake McClure as early as the beginning of the new year under emergency orders.
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. From there the water can be exported to other farms and cities throughout the state.
Under the state’s Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan, every resident in Atwater, Merced, Livingston and the surrounding areas will lose:
- Drinking water quality and their historic water supply.
- Hundreds of household-supporting jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in the local
- Recreation at Lakes McClure and McSwain, including camping, fishing, boating, and more.
- Local environmental benefits including water flowing through local streams, such as Bear Creek,
Following the Dec. 8 meeting, MID’s Sweigard called on every resident of Atwater, Merced, Livingston and the surrounding communities to write to Governor Newsom and the State Water Board.
“This is absolutely as real as it gets. The governor and the State Water Board need to hear from every single resident,” said Sweigard.
“Lake McClure was not built by the state or federal government,” he added. “Your community built and paid for this reservoir a century ago. MID has responsibly managed this resource to maximize local water supply, flood control, environmental benefits and recreation. If the state succeeds, half of your water supply will be lost forever.”
The State Water Board is comprised of five unelected members who are appointed by the Governor of California. The State Water Board staff proposed the Bay Delta Water Plan several years ago for the purported benefit of improving salmon populations and improving water quality in the Bay Delta.
For years MID has advocated for supporting salmon on the Merced River but stated that water quality problems in the Bay Delta were not created by residents of eastern Merced County.
“It is not our community that is illegally diverting water from the Delta, dumping pollution into it, or over exporting fresh water from it,” said Sweigard. “Our community should not bear the brunt of addressing problems they didn’t cause, located three counties and more than a hundred miles away.”
Backed with tens of millions of dollars in environmental science on the Merced River, MID has repeatedly told the State Water Board that simply taking water away from eastern Merced County will not support salmon. Most of the historical, natural floodplain habitat around the Bay Delta has been carved into cities and farms. Habitat for spawning and rearing along key sections of the Merced River were destroyed decades ago by invasive mechanical mining – which was sanctioned by the state, not MID.
MID has advocated and helped complete significant environmental projects to restore Merced River salmon habitat in eastern Merced County. MID was also among the first water purveyors in the State to offer an alternative settlement agreement for supporting salmon on the Merced River. Both Governor Brown and Newsom had said they welcomed “voluntary settlement agreements” with California water purveyors who are affected by the Bay Delta Plan.
In 2016, MID offered the S.A.F.E. Plan (Salmon, Agriculture, Flows, and Environment). MID’s alternative proposal offered to immediately increase flows of water down the Merced River during key salmon lifecycle events. The MID S.A.F.E. Plan also called for the restoration of more than five miles of salmon habitat on the Merced River; addressed predation of juvenile salmon by non-native bass; and made investments in the Merced River Salmon Hatchery.
State environmental leaders and the State Water Board rejected the MID plan saying it didn’t provide enough water. In 2018, the Board adopted a final version the Bay Delta Plan. Then in October this year, state officials said they were done with efforts to reach settlement agreements and were moving forward with the Bay Delta Plan’s implementation.
On Dec. 8, the State Water Board discussed the various ways the Bay Delta Plan could be implemented.
“The Bay Delta Plan and its water grab from eastern Merced County have been talked about and planned for years,” said MID’s Sweigard after the meeting earlier this month. “Today, it became clear the planning is over and the actions to take your water are about to begin.”
Contact information for Governor Newsom and State Water Board officials, as well as an online petition, can be found online at: www.SaveMercedsWater.com