The Merced River S.A.F.E Plan is a proposed alternative to the State Water Resources Control Board’s plan to divert more water from our community north toward the Bay Delta. Merced ID has long maintained that our community depends on a healthy river to maintain our local way of life. That includes the health of salmon populations. The S.A.F.E. Plan would address Salmon, Agriculture, Flows and the Environment in a comprehensive approach. This is in stark contrast to the state’s Bay Delta Plan (SED). The state’s approach is simply to take more water away from our community without addressing other challenges faced by salmon, including predation and lost habitat. It is a fact that less than five percent of the salmon survive their out migration down the Merced River, up the San Joaquin River and through the Bay Delta: the vast majority of salmon from the Merced River are trucked to locations allowing them to escape predators, such as non-native striped bass.
The State’s Bay Delta Plan (SED) will affect everyone in eastern Merced County by harming local water quality. It will also cost the local economy nearly 1,000 jobs and more than $231 million in economic activity.
Each year, MID’s helps replenish water into the local groundwater as part of its irrigation operations. Up to 140,000 acre-feet of fresh, clean water flows from Lake McClure into the eastern Merced aquifer. The aquifer is used by cities, rural residents and farmers alike. Under the State’s Bay Delta plan, MID’s groundwater replenishment will cease. This in turn will result in saline (salt) water intrusion to our community’s local groundwater.
In terms of the local economy, a recent analysis of state and county documents has determined that up to 970 jobs and $231 million in economic output would be harmed. These are not strictly “on-farm” jobs. This includes a host of affiliated businesses, such as trucking, manufacturing and more.
The State Water Resources Control Board is in the midst of updating its Water Quality Control Plan for the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. That state plan identifies beneficial uses of water in the Bay-Delta and water quality objectives.
In 2012, the State Water Board released a draft Substitute Environmental Document proposing 35 percent of the flow from the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus Rivers would be diverted to the Bay Delta. Following substantive comments and input from our community, the State Board revised and released a final Bay Delta Plan SED document on September 15: it calls for 40 percent of the flow from the Merced River.
The State Plan aims to assist salmon. The problem is that salmon face a host of challenges to their lifecycle. The Delta has a host of environmental challenges. It has been dredged and channelized leaving little natural habitat for salmon to grow and escape predation. At the same time, non-native bass – which have long been a known predator of juvenile salmon – have not been addressed. Thus simply providing more water will have only miniscule benefit to salmon.
MID takes seriously the stewardship of the Merced River, and sustainability of the local environment. Most stakeholders acknowledge that salmon need help. What’s debatable is how to support them: MID believes that a certain increase – within reasonable means – can help salmon. However, such water releases must be applied based on “on-the-ground” science and research – and only as one part of a multi-pronged approach to support salmon. They also require increased habitat and decreased predation.