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Hearings on Proposal to Increase Flow in Three Rivers

Hearings will be held March 21–22 on a proposal to require that 35% of the water from the Stanislaus, Merced and Tuolumne Rivers flows unimpeded through the system for the benefit of fish and wildlife from February through June each year.

In a draft Substitute Environmental Document (SED), State Water Resources Board staff calculates this would mean a loss of 181,000 acre-feet per year, on average, among the three rivers, resulting in a 9% average reduction in annual diversions. Growers who rely on water from any of these sources for irrigation would lose access to water and suffer significant reductions in dry years.

The goals of the increased unimpeded flows are two-fold. The main one is to improve habitat for salmon species in the Lower San Joaquin River, as well as the Stanislaus, Merced and Tuolumne Rivers, as required by the 2006 Bay-Delta Plan. The unimpeded flows would provide more natural and variable water flow conditions for the salmon.

The second goal is to ensure that salinity levels in the southern Delta remain low enough for agricultural uses. The SED acknowledges that there will be economic losses to agricultural operations that rely on water from the three rivers, but also assumes that growers would choose to grow, or not to grow a crop, depending on available water. It is not clear that the amount of permanent crop acreage was considered in the analysis.

Growers may contact their Irrigation Districts for additional information on the implications of the proposal.

The public hearing will be held at 9 a.m. March 21 at the Cal-EPA building in Sacramento. Oral comments of 10 minutes or less may be made. The hearing will extend to March 22, if necessary. Written comments will be accepted until 12 noon on March 29 at commentletters@waterboards.ca.gov, or by fax to (916) 341-5652 Attn: Jeanine Townsend.

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