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Fish Flow Negotiations Still Afloat At Water Board Meeting

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Sacramento, CA — It remains to be seen if state water officials will at a crucial meeting achieve some compromise on a contentious proposal critics have dubbed “a massive water grab.”

Today, the Water Board hopes to decide on a delta bay plan that includes greatly increased flows down the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers for the supposed sake of delta fish and their habitat. As reported here, it delayed the action a month at the request of Governor Jerry Brown and Governor-elect Gavin Newsom, who urged them to continue negotiations, consider making environmental concessions in order to avoid inevitable lawsuits, and personally took part in some of the talks.

In a joint statement shared earlier today that reflected some optimism, the Tri-Dam Partners, the Oakdale (OID) and South San Joaquin (SSJID) irrigation districts signaled their continued concerns. The partnership developed to operate and maintain the Tri-Dam Project, which includes the Donnells, Beardsley and Tulloch projects and have senior water rights on the Bureau of Reclamation controlled New Melones. They are also the spearheads for a “Save The Stan” outreach campaign.

The districts’ officials further reported that through sessions ending last night they diligently tried to strike a deal with federal andstate officials, and regional irrigation district partners but were unable to craft an agreement for the Stanislaus River in time for today’s meeting.

Clarifying Concerns, Working To Get To ‘Yes’

While emphasizing the many points of consensus and settlement discussions going on that may provide encouraging signs that “a lasting solution on the Stanislaus River is near,” OID and SSJID officials stress the Stan is unique in the San Joaquin basin and already flowing at significantly higher levels — 30 to 35 percent unimpaired flows — than most of the state’s rivers.

The districts’ position is that while there may be some marginal benefit to some additional flows, there is not enough water to maintain a sustainable supply and avoid fishery declines and that they will willingly make habitat commitments to help mitigate a settlement.

The districts also requested the Water Board to provide a bit more time for negotiations, adding that they believe they could get to “yes” and a position to relatively quickly implement improvements on the Stan — as opposed to winding up in a position where both sides are dealing with a protracted stalemate.

Commenting on this afternoon’s progress, OID General Manager Steve Knell says negotiations will most likely continue, even if part of the plan is adopted. “‘[There are] still lots of moving parts — the decision of the State Board today is only the beginning, not the end,” he comments. Speculating that the meeting could run well into the evening, he adds, “[There is] lots of work and uncertainty still ahead for all parties.”