The full story on river restoration

The so-called “undisclosed” report regarding the possible impacts of the San Joaquin River Restoration Program. The Friant Water Users Authority, representing San Joaquin Valley farmers, commissioned two economic studies as part of pretrial discovery on the San Joaquin River litigation.

The initial report provided anticipated economic impacts of an adverse court ruling for fish flows. A supplemental report provided anticipated economic impacts of lesser fish flows suggested by the plaintiffs' experts (which later became the basis of the settlement's restoration flows). Neither report took into account settlement provisions for recovery of water.

These two reports, as well as all of the expert reports generated by the authority, were part of the public record by the fall of 2005. The economic and other expert reports were made available to any organization or person who requested them.

For instance, the reports were provided to the Congressional Research Office (which was assimilating information on the settlement at the request of Rep. Devin Nunes). The reports were also sent to the chairman of the Water and Power Subcommittee in November 2006. We provided copies of the economic reports to Sen. Dianne Feinstein's staff in early December.

The authority presumed, and apparently mistakenly so, that further distribution to our Valley federally elected officials had taken place.

What is really important is where we are today. There is legislation currently before the U.S. Congress that will put into effect a settlement to end an 18-year legal dispute over the operation of Friant Dam and resolve longstanding legal claims brought by a coalition of environmental and fishing groups led by the Natural Resources Defense Council. It provides for substantial river channel improvements and sufficient water flow to sustain a salmon fishery upstream from the confluence of the Merced River tributary. It also provides explicit water supply certainty to Friant Division water contractors.

The equal water management goal of the settlement and legislation provides for implementation of plans and projects to recover and develop water that were not factored into the economic reports.

It is absolutely imperative that Valley residents understand what is at stake and why this legislation is so important.

The San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act protects the Friant water supply. That includes water supporting 15,000 farmers on nearly one million acres of the nation's most productive farmland in parts of five counties.

It also provides or helps sustain water supplies for numerous cities and communities along the southern San Joaquin Valley's east side, including Fresno.

The settlement act lays out river restoration and continuous river flows in an organized, phased and reasonable time frame. Planning, design work and environmental reviews are to begin immediately, and interim flows for experimental purposes would start in 2009. The flows will be increased gradually with salmon being reintroduced by December 31, 2012. The settlement, and water supply protection, continues in effect until 2026.

Sources of funding to support the settlement include current water user payments, future federal appropriations and funds from California voter-passed propositions (Propositions 84 and 1E). If this legislation does not pass, then we may find the decision regarding our water supplies back in the hands of a federal judge who has already indicated he will send water down the river. The question would then become: how much water? Our real and recent conservative estimate is that the judge could send twice as much water down the river than the settlement calls for, with zero assurances the water will come back.

Yes, we risk losing some Friant water to river restoration. However, the settlement's “Water Management Goal” is specifically identified as being co-equal to restoration of the river and the salmon fishery. We will fully pursue getting our water back. The agreement also does not limit our continued pursuit of additional water supply development for our region, such as surface storage.

Some thoughtful, well-intentioned local leaders have suggested that the legislation be amended to guarantee that Friant will not lose any water as a result of the settlement.

That idea certainly has lots of appeal to anybody concerned about their water supply, but the cold, hard reality is that the other parties to the settlement will not accept such a change. They have already publicly stated their opposition to it, and if it is forced upon them by Congress, they will likely withdraw from the settlement. The agreement would then collapse, leaving Friant farmers again at the mercy of the court.

Information from the economic studies was seriously taken into consideration by the authority and should also be considered by others. Our analysis, based upon 18 years of litigation and the related court rulings, led us to conclude that a court-ordered restoration could have severe water supply and economic impacts. For that very reason, we spent months carefully negotiating a settlement that includes water management as an equal goal and is intended to help Friant water users recover the supplies lost to the river.

We believe settlement to be a sound decision. Passage of the San Joaquin River Restoration is the best option for protecting our long-term interests.
Ronald D. Jacobsma
Consulting General Manager
Friant Water Users Authority.

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