Merced ID has tried to do the right thing by developing the SAFE Plan and making settlement efforts. We now urge Merced ID’s stakeholders to support our refocused efforts as we gear up for the impending regulatory and legal battles that await as we continue to work to protect our community’s water supply... We have seen zero evidence the state or environmental groups are receptive to the MID’s SAFE Plan proposal... This is about circumventing the water rights priority system in California and taking our senior storage and water rights to give to junior water rights holders in the name of fish and Delta outflow. Dave Long and Scott Koehn, Merced Sun-Star, Oct. 4, 2017.
Let us hasten into flat contradiction: Merced ID has never done the right thing about the Merced River, ever. Their corporate mantrum is: Eternal vigilance is the price of a water right. They consistently behave as if they hold as true as Gospel the belief that they own a portion of the Merced River and that their right is like the fee simple rights they own to their land, rather than the use right they own of the state.
And so, from time to time, very often by the pen of the perpetually resentful Dave Long, we get these extended whines about how the state is taking away the water rights of the tributary irrigation districts (those districts getting their water from tributaries of the San Joaquin River), and how environmentalists are going right along with it.
Name six environmental groups supporting it. Name one.
But Long, the experienced agro-propagandist, knows that no letter to the editor about water is complete without -- fairly or unfairly, correctly or wrongly -- beating the drums of paranoia and hatred of environmental groups. It's as typical of his kind of screed as his byline.
It is this charge that makes Merced ID's Salmon, Agriculture, Flows and Environment plan beyond "fishy." Instead of SAFE it should have been named Flows For Almonds, FFA, like Future Farmers of America. They train their more verbal heirs and heiresses-to-be the fine arts of debate and rhetoric.
State resource agencies have granted MID a controlling position in the mandatory local sustainable groundwater agency, yet MID is, if not the largest, one of the largest pumpers of groundwater and its members have their own pumps, busily drawing down the aquifer for orchards recently planted on actually sustainable seasonal pastureland. Putting the fox in control of the henhouse doesn't quite express putting pumpers in charge of sustaining the aquifer.
However, MID will inevitably blunder into illegality and if the state is paying attention. Partly, this is because it is an arrogant, but not a brilliant organization, and water districts understand the laws governing them about as well as dairymen understand the milk-price structure.
The reason for this particular expression of the Great Valley Farmer Whine is that the state really is bigger than the irrigation districts if it choose to be, sustainable groundwater policies are receiving major political attention, and the Valley is in the midst of an historic nut and grape boom and has been converting hundreds of thousands of acres of seasonal pastureland to orchards.
But in this instance, there is another entity larger than Merced ID, in fact, two, in this big stakes pool game. Westlands Water District, largest in the nation, is that dastardly junior rights holder whose name cannot be spoken; and behind Westlands stands the All Mighty Power of Powers, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
Merced and the other tributary IDs might have one or two lobbyists, but Westlands and Metropolitan have many more and much more money to distribute. And thanks to the Citizens Alliance decision in the US Supreme Court, written by second-generation lobbyist, lawyer and USSC justice Anthony Kennedy of Sacramento, there is no longer any effective limit on the influence of money in politics. Except personal integrity, of course.
But three weeks ago, Westlands voted against funding the project. Of course, everyone thinks Tom Birmingham and the board are just bargaining for another free ride on state and federal funds (the Bureau of Reclamation paid the lion's share for the planning) rather than Westlands' because their wealth, translated into political clout has overcome the legal obstacle arising from their junior rights-holder's status. Their inferior water rights has stimulated them to continually new heights of "political involvement." But, still, it makes this local whine seem ill-timed. -- blj
We’re through negotiating with the state
Dave Long And Scott Koehn
Merced Irrigation District and our community have a strong track record of environmental stewardship. From MID staff, to our community, to our local legislators our community has put its best foot forward toward solving complex water and environmental issues related to the Merced River.
After years of promoting compromises on Merced River fishery and flow requirements, it has become apparent there is no compromise to be found.
We commend MID staff for developing and promoting the Merced River SAFE (Salmon, Agriculture, Flows and Environment) Plan as an alternative to the state’s severely flawed Bay Delta Plan and the Substitute Environmental Draft that would implement part of it on the Merced.
The SAFE Plan is a comprehensive plan and solution for Merced River salmon. Merced ID, along with other parties, have been discussing a settlement as it relates to future San Joaquin River tributary river flows, including the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers, to the Bay Delta. We have seen zero evidence the state or environmental groups are receptive to the MID’s SAFE Plan proposal.
If the state were receptive to the SAFE Plan, Merced River salmon would see improvements in their life-cycle habitat immediately through river restoration and immediate increases in river flows.
The fact the state has not embraced the SAFE Plan – and stubbornly continues to pursue its own flawed plan of taking vast amounts of water from senior rights holders – shows this is not about salmon. This is about something far greater.
This is about circumventing the water rights priority system in California and taking our senior storage and water rights to give to junior water rights holders in the name of fish and Delta outflow.
Coincidentally, the state is pursuing its twin tunnels proposal to divert more water from the Sacramento River before that water ever reaches the delta – all the while telling San Joaquin River senior water rights holders the state needs our water for the “Delta.”
Forgive the pun, but something “smells fishy.”
We hear echoes of “Save The Delta,” “Restore The Delta,” etc. Folks, we have news for you – the natural, historical Delta no longer exists.
The Delta is a forever-altered, man-made and developed water system. What was once a natural environmental system is now farms, cities and towns protected by man-made levees all built with the blessings of the state. The state allowed the Delta to be developed for agriculture, towns and cities. Given those facts, why are Merced ID’s water rights being targeted as the solution to mitigate for the development of the Delta?
We know that some amount of river flow will be part of a solution for improved native fish populations. However, the Merced River is only 3 percent of the Delta inflow, yet we are being told our water is 100 percent of the solution. The main stem of the San Joaquin River, located upstream of the Merced River confluence, yields nearly twice the flow of the Merced River. And still this vital section of river has been left out of the SED’s call for more water flows to the Delta.
Merced ID is willing to be part of the solution for Merced River salmon moving forward. We will not, however, stand idly by while the state looks only to our water rights as the way to mitigate the actions of others, including those who have directly benefitted from the development of the Delta.
Merced ID has tried to do the right thing by developing the SAFE Plan and making settlement efforts. We now urge Merced ID’s stakeholders to support our refocused efforts as we gear up for the impending regulatory and legal battles that await as we continue to work to protect our community’s water supply.
Dave Long is president and Scott Koehn is vice president of Merced Irrigation District. They wrote this for The Merced Sun-Star.