Central Valley farmers are teaming up with the City of San Francisco to oppose a plan by California’s State Water Resources Control Board to divert more water to salmon runs along the Tuolumne River.
The plan, which critics call a “water grab,” would increase the amount of water in the river from roughly 11 percent of its natural flow to 40 percent, according to the Fresno Bee. The goal is to restore salmon and steelhead populations.
The state board’s plan is supported by environmental groups and fishing interests. Some supporters of the plan say it does not go far enough. But the plan is opposed by San Francisco and by county water authorities in the Central Valley.
The unusual alliance between urban liberals and rural conservatives is driven by the shared concern that the new water flow requirements will prove too restrictive, especially in years of drought.
The state board was supposed to vote on the new plan — called the Bay-Delta Plan — this week, but instead extended a period of public comment. The board will be holding public hearings in Sacramento, California, on Tuesday and Wednesday to take public input on the latest draft of the plan.
The debate is a watershed (no pun intended) for a variety of reasons. One is that it repeats, on the state level, a now-familiar federal fight over the balance between water for farms and water for endangered fish — in that case, the Delta smelt.
Another is that the new battle is a response to state legislation passed in 2009 that requires state water management authorities to examine upstream water sources rather than merely managing downstream pumping, as Bay Area public radio station KQED notes.
Perhaps most noteworthy of all is that the new plan threatens San Francisco’s claim on the waters of the Sierra Nevada that are stored at the Hetch Hetchy Dam, which environmental groups want to dismantle altogether. The plan requires more of Hetch Hetchy’s water to be released — though San Francisco officials contend that some two-thirds of the dam’s waters are released back into the river anyway in a typical year.
State water board chair Felicia Marcus says that San Francisco and the Central Valley can adapt to the plan by being wiser about conservation: “Water users can adapt by switching crops, become more efficient, and putting more water away in wet or normal times for the inevitable dry times,” she told KQED.
San Francisco and for Central Valley farmers contend, however, that it is unclear that increasing the river flow will help the fish populations.
Roughly 1,500 farmers rallied at the State Capitol on Monday to oppose the plan, according to the Modesto Bee. Republicans and Democrats joined together from the Central Valley, with Reps. Tom McClintock (R) and Jeff Dunham (R) joined by Rep. Jim Costa (D).
Fishing interests, however, had a different take on the state’s plan. “It’s not just for the environment — it’s for the fishers and all the people who enjoy salmon,” Peter Drekmeier, policy director of the Tuolumne River Trust, told the Associated Press.
The Fresno Bee notes that the state board is also considering another plan to divert the Sacramento River’s watershed to help fish populations. And it adds that whatever decision the board reaches is likely to be challenged in court.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.