A plan to keep rivers flowing for fish triggers another water fight

State regulators want to leave more water for fish and wildlife in the heavily tapped tributaries of the San Joaquin River, setting the stage for another bruising California water fight.

The proposal to keep more water flowing in the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers could spread the pain caused by environmentally related water cuts to irrigation districts and cities that have largely escaped them, thanks to their location and seniority in the hierarchy by which the state allocates water rights.

Officials with a stake in those rivers’ water came out swinging Thursday within hours of the release of new proposed flow standards.

“Our community has never faced a threat of this proportion,” proclaimed a statement from the more than century-old Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts, which called the draft standards an “uncompromising, misguided plan” that would steal the region’s livelihood.

The proposal by the State Water Resources Control Board focuses on major Sierra Nevada-fed rivers that much of the time lose 60% or 70% of their natural flow to dams and diversions. This water helps quench San Francisco’s thirst and waters crops on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley. And its diversion devastates populations of salmon and other native fish.

“The cost to species has been enormous … We can’t ignore the flow needs anymore,”  water board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said.

The draft plan, which could be revised after public hearings and comments, sets February through June flow standards of 30% to 50% of the water that would naturally course down the river beds if there were no reservoirs or diversions. An initial requirement of 40% could vary within that range depending on what other measures water users take to improve fish conditions.

Read the entire article at The LA Times