Preparing for the grandmother of all pork

"Every drop of water that runs to the sea without yielding its full commercial returns to the nation is an economic waste."-- Herbert Hoover,
"...water which is allowed to enter the sea is wasted."-- Joseph Stalin

What is curious about this Merced Irrigation District proposal to heighten the McClure Dam is that the district just sold 15,000 acre feet to a west side water district. During the last propaganda-manufactured drought, Merced ID's reservoirs were overflowing, just like all the reservoirs on the east side of the valley, which is watered by a number of rivers out of the
Sierra unlike the west side of the valley, which is watered by no river south of Mendota and until the San Joaquin River Settlement, the San Joaquin arrived from the Sierra to Mendota bone dry during the gorwing season for 60 years. So, while dams like the Don Pedro on the Tuolumne are overflowing and Modesto ID, which stores its water in Don Pedro Reservoir negotiates with San Francisco for a 50-year water contract, the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, the junior-most water partner, gets its water from the Delta via the Delta-Mendota Canal and San Luis Canal.

Although the usual reason for the dam raising -- the manic gread for more water, more power, more moeny that motivates the managers of irrigation and water districts --is probably sufficient, we have another suggestion.

Congress will be happy to authorize this dam raising because somebody back there is whispering in ears that the California High Speed Railway will need more electricity than is manifest at the moment, at least west of coal burning power plants polluting the air over the Grand Canyon.

There is so much opposition to this particular pork-barrel boondoggle that mentioning that the electricity will go to high speed rail would probably not improve the political chances for the dam raising.

If the Federal Highway Authority is the mother of all pork barrels, the Federal Railway Commission is the grandmother of all pork barrels.

Leave it to the subsidy-check cashers in agriculture to figure the newest way to federal pork.

Badlands Journal editorial board

Merced Sun-Sta

Wil Hunter: Don't be fooled; Lake McClure spillway project is a good thing… Hunter is vice president of the Merced Irrigation District.

Merced Irrigation District has taken a significant step forward in its effort to increase water supply storage at Lake McClure. There still remains much work. In the meantime, a debt of gratitude is owed to all of our community supporters, our local legislators and other elected leaders.

I was pleased to talk to over 20 government and civic groups and appreciate all of the resolutions and letters of support they provided us and the legislature.

In June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation as the first step in this lengthy process. Now we await action in the Senate. We could not have gotten this far without overwhelming support.

The facts are this clear and simple:

California's population swells and will not see a new dam built any time soon. In fact, San Francisco residents are considering an initiative to remove O'Shaughnessy Dam that stores their drinking water supply high in the Sierra Nevada.

MID's proposal would raise its spillways by up to 10 feet, not the dam.

In wet years, about every three years, MID would store an additional 70,000 acre-feet of water that could be carried forward into a dry year.

MID is requesting that the federal government recognize the district's original hydroelectric project boundary on the Merced River. The Wild and Scenic River Act boundary of the Merced River overlapped our existing project boundary in 1987, currently preventing MID from increasing its spillway.

Make no mistake, the increased supply of water would have a host of benefits for agriculture and our community; vital additional water supply, more clean, renewable hydroelectric generation, enhanced recreation and groundwater pumping relief and recharge are among them.

To understand the importance of this project we need look no further than the last two irrigation seasons. In 2011 MID essentially drained and refilled Lake McClure due to the extremely wet winter. On the other hand, 2012 marked one of the driest years on record. If MID had had the spillway project in place last year, MID would have had an additional 70,000 acre-feet of water this year -- a dry year.

MID would likely fill Lake McClure to its capacity approximately and could capture the additional 70,000 acre-feet of storage once every three years in a wet year. Again, the legislation fixes the boundary issues from 1987, whereby the Wild and Scenic boundary overlapped MID's existing federally designated hydroelectric project boundary on the river.

We absolutely acknowledge those who have raised concerns about the modification to the Wild and Scenic River Act. We continue to hold civil conversations with those who are willing.

Unfortunately, a few opponents from outside our community have pushed a host of scare tactics, slippery-slope arguments, fear mongering and outright lies about the effects of raising the spillways.

When those tactics didn't work in Washington, D.C., they turned their attention and tactics toward our own community. Organizations who don't care about this community have been attempting to plant the seed that our local farmers cannot afford a

$40 million project.

This is absurd. MID has built a 100 megawatt hydroelectric project, a $150 million electric utility and completed over

$100 million in other capital projects in its existence.

All have greatly benefited our community with reliable, affordable water and energy resources.

If the legislation should proceed, MID will implement a responsible capital improvement project plan for the spillway modification just as it has done for every other capital project it has completed.

Ask a local family farmer with permanent crops or dairy cattle if investing in a water future is something they would support. The answer will be a resounding "Yes! Where can I sign up?"

As MID works to advance the proposal in the Senate, I encourage you to contact your two U.S. senators who are currently reviewing the issue and have yet to take a formal position.

I also want to again thank the sponsor of the House bill, Congressman Jeff Denham, and all of the local and bipartisanship support we have seen from the community for this common sense proposal.

Growers criticize transfer of water MID sale comes as Sierra snowpack is half of normal.

The Sierra Nevada snowpack is still only about half of normal, and as dry times persist, so does the infighting over water.

Local disgruntled farmers continue to take issue with Merced Irrigation District's sale of 15,000 acre-feet of water to the San Luis Water District.

At Tuesday's MID meeting, El Nido farmers blasted the board for going ahead with the deal despite issuing water curtailments for growers.

The issue is especially sensitive since El Nido growers receive half the water the rest of the district gets during drought years. This year, most MID growers are limited to four acre-feet of water an acre, while El Nido growers get up to two acre-feet an acre. (An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons.)

"We can't sell (water) in a critically dry year," said Gino Pedretti, an MID director. "We need to rescind that (deal) and keep it for our people."

Pedretti and other El Nido growers made the argument that the transfer violates the state water code.

Opponents of the sale have quoted California Water Code 22259:

"If its board deems it to be for the best interests of the district, a district may enter into a contract for the lease or sale of any surplus water or use of surplus water not then necessary for use within the district, for use either within or without the district."

John Sweigard, MID general manager, said the staff couldn't comment on the legality of a water sale during a year when a curtailment has been issued because the MID is preparing for a possible court battle. He declined to say with whom. "We're not at liberty to discuss the legalities of that. We've been threatened with litigation and once that occurs we have to stay off of that topic and see how that plays out," Sweigard said.

Selling water in a drought year when water curtailments are issued doesn't violate the state water code, according to the State Water Resources Control Board.

Pedretti made a motion to kill the San Luis water transfer during the meeting, but only he and Wil Hunter, MID board vice president, voted for it.

Before the votes were cast, the "use it or lose it" argument was repeated several times.

"As far as water rights, what's going to happen if environmentalists find out that you're selling water outside the district when you're cutting members of the district back?" asked El Nido farmer Gino Pedretti Jr., son of the Division 2 director. "What's that going to do to water rights?"

But competing with fears over losing water rights was the idea that regardless of whether the district sells the water to San Luis, it would still release that 15,000 acre-feet down the Merced River.

To satisfy Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requirements, the MID must release, in dry years, a minimum of 60 cubic feet per second down the Merced River during the winter and spring. In wet years, that requirement increases to 70 cubic feet per second. In the summer and fall the flow requirements are lower.

However, because other factors affect the level of the river -- including out-of-district water users who draw on river water -- district officials release extra water in the spring and winter as a hedge against violating the federal requirement.

MID has been voluntarily releasing an extra roughly 100 cubic feet per second down the Merced River in spring and winter for decades, said Hicham Eltal, MID deputy general manager. "With or without the transfer, that water will still have to go to the ocean or whoever picks it up downstream," he said.

In this case, San Luis will be getting up to 15,000 acre-feet of it downstream -- and paying MID $176 an acre-foot for it.

"If we can benefit from putting the water in there that we have to put in there and get paid for it, it's a pretty big deal," said Suzy Hultgren, MID board president. "It's not a faucet. It's not like 15,000 acre-feet will suddenly come down and save the entire season for everybody."

MID staff said it will review the legal implications of making out-of-district water sales during drought years when water