Ready, set, flow

Biologists check for salmon at the rotary screw trap on the Stanislaus River near Escalon. Record file photo

San Joaquin County is gearing up for the next big water tussle — new flow requirements on the San Joaquin River and its tributaries, including the Stanislaus.

By definition, if more water must stay in the river, then water users must take less. So you can see why this will be a big deal. KQED does a good job explaining.

I’ve been hearing these new rules are imminent, but I’ve also been hearing that for, like, two months. So who knows when we’ll actually see them.

Water users who may be harmed, however, are already stating their case — or certainly preparing to do so.

Last week, San Joaquin County’s water commission agreed to spend $20,000 for a consultant to study possible economic impacts. The consultant, Stratecon’s Rod Smith, perhaps better known as the “Hydrowonk,” is already doing such a study for neighboring Stanislaus County. San Joaquin will basically piggyback on that study.

Officials in Stanislaus are very worried about the new flow rules. In San Joaquin, the situation is a little different; we’re not all in the same boat, so to speak.

Many farmers on the east side of the county may stand to receive less river water from the Stanislaus. A number of local cities rely in part on the Stanislaus as well, including Escalon, Manteca, Tracy and Stockton (though the latter city is at the end of the line — Stockton hasn’t gotten a drop from the Stanislaus for the past two years).

On the other hand, any additional flows left in the river may benefit downstream farmers in the Delta, on the west side of the county. And any increase in water quality downstream could also help Stockton, since the city now draws a significant share of its drinking water from the estuary.

It’ll be interesting to see how hard San Joaquin County hits this issue, given the potential east-west divide. Though the $20,000 study was approved, three members of the commission abstained. That’s a bit unusual.

The South San Joaquin Irrigation District, which holds senior water rights on the Stanislaus, is also preparing for a fight. Last week, Fishbio, the fish consultants who work with the water district, announced that populations of rainbow trout (also known as steelhead, if they’re migratory) are at their lowest level in six years. That’s despite rules that took effect in 2009 that are supposed to help fish.

You can bet this will be a part of South San Joaquin’s case against the new flow standards.

For context, however, as my former colleague Dana Nichols reports, the farmers are the ones who divert most of the water that is available on the Stan.

Stay tuned. Eventually these rules will be issued. If not “imminently.”

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  • Blog Author

    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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