More reports on: Water & Sanitation

California regulators to make more water available for fish, less for farms, cities

17 September 2016

California state regulators are pushing for more water for fish and wildlife in the heavily tapped tributaries of the San Joaquin River, which could lead to another water fight in the state.

Officials with a stake in the waters of the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers, lost no time in making their opposition to the release of new proposed flow standards clear.

''Our community has never faced a threat of this proportion,'' a statement from the more than century-old Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts read. The statement added the draft standards offered an ''uncompromising, misguided plan'' that would steal the region's livelihood.

The proposal by the State Water Resources Control Board is focused on the major Sierra Nevada-fed rivers that mostly lose 60 per cent or 70 per cent of their natural flow to dams and diversions.

This water is supplied to San Francisco and farms on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley. But the diversion has a devastating impact on 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.

To protect endangered fish at critical parts of their life cycle, regulators plan to add hundreds of thousands of additional acre-feet of water in the San Joaquin River system. Currently only 20 per cent of the river now flowed unimpeded to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and regulators aim to increased the so-called ''natural'' flow at least 30 per cent and perhaps as high as 50 per cent.

According to commentators, the proposal was yet another effort to improve the ecosystem of one of California's most overused river systems, where flows sometimes dropped to a comparative trickle.

The five-person board would gather inputs from farmers, environmentalists and others before voting on a plan, likely early next year.

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