McClintock puts water regulations at forefront

The Mountain Area received a welcome visit last week from District 4 U.S. Congressman Tom McClintock (R).

The four-term congressman was in town to discuss with his constituents the effects environmental law and regulations are having on the area by diverting billions of gallons of water to the ocean, All to avoid jeopardizing listed species or adversely modifying their critical habitat, including the infamous Delta Smelt.

McClintock said his main priority this year is water. Not water conservation, but water diversion. McClintock said he understands the importance of conserving and finding a balance between humans and their environment, but questioned President Obama and Governor Brown for not seriously considering legislation McClintock introduced last year that would give billions of gallons of the state’s most precious resource back to valley farmers and Mountain Area residents.

McClintock said the current policies are not suitable during times of drought and calls for an overhaul of the 2009 Operations and Criteria Plan Biological Opinion which requires annual water allocations to be dumped in the ocean.

“The most important thing we have to do is stop these ridiculous environmental flows out of what precious little water remains behind our dams,” McClintock said.

McCLintock said he has remained pro-active over the past few years in trying to recall some of these overly aggressive resticitions and regulations

Last year McClintock wrote a letter to both President Barack Obama and California’s Governor Gerry Brown last year asking they convene abou the current drought disaster facing the Central Valley. It took Obama over 5-months to respond in which case he said no and Governor Brown has yet to reply, according to McClintock.

McClintock said that continuing to dump the same amount of water into the ocean during drought years is “sheer lunacy.”

In a Wall Street Journal article published last May, titled “California Drains Reservoirs in the Middle of a Drought,” McClintock discussed these very same issues but said the article went all but unnoticed.

“I think the reason we didn’t get the public reaction we expected is because they didn’t believe me. I don’t think that they believed that these policies were so absurd as to dump 23-billion gallons of water in the middle of the worst drought in recorded history,” McClintock said.

But 70,000 acre feet being dumped out of Folsom Lake and New Melones over the past few weeks has people in the area concerned, and now has the state legislatures talking.

“This year, with the threat of draining Tullock Lake, I think that has finally awakened people to the fact that these policies are real and they are absolutely devastating. And they are preparing to [drain] them again,” McClintock said.

On March 11, both McClintock and Jeff Denham (10th District Representative) co-authored a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Fisheries demanding they conform to the 2009 biological opinion, sighting releases well above the requirements of that biological requirement.

In that letter, McClintock highlighted that the same environmental laws set up to protect specific species of fish and other wildlife could be the very same laws causing unnecessary water shortages for other species throughout the state.

McClintock addressed concerns about large releases of water which exceed the minimum requirement of release under the 2009 Operations and Criteria Plan Biological Opinion. McClintock highlighted how last May/April the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation drained approximately 60,000 acre feet of water from New Melones reservoir on the Stanislaus River - enough to meet the annual needs of a city of half a million people in order to comply with environmental laws regulations.

“This was after the snow pack was completely gone and after we knew we were in the worst drought in recorded history of this state, after we knew we were out of the rainy season, and no more rain was coming until Autumn...all to adjust the water temperature a few degrees so the fish don’t get cranky,” McClintock said with a shake of his head.

McClintock used this example as a guideline to show the effects if the same mistake is repeated. One section of the letter reads:

“Proposed river releases in the coming months that are significantly higher than required under the 2009 Operations and Criteria Plan Biological Opinion for dry and critical water years will likely cause New Melones to reach dead pool by August. Even if operations of New Melones strictly followed the 2009 OCAP-BO, New Melones will reach dead pool by September or October, still causing a dry river for returning fall-run salmon.”

McClintock went on to discuss the potential ramifications if these laws and regulations are not amended to reduce their allocations during severe drought years.

“If the [New Melones] reservoir reaches dead pool, communities that rely on Lake Tulloch (downstream of New Melones) for their water supply will be unable to access their water, irrigators downstream of Tulloch Dam will go without water during the hottest months of the year, and no flow will be available for fall-run salmon upon its return migration.”

McClintock says as early as next week he will be introducing new legislation aimed at protecting the state’s vital water supply in the times of drought. The legislation, if passed, would prohibit environmental releases in times of a severe drought and could include reducing the environmental costs of building more dams.

“Droughts are nature’s fault, they happen from time to time, but water shortages are a choice. Water shortages are our fault. We have not built a major reservoir since New Melones back in 1979. Meanwhile the population in the state has nearly doubled,” McClintock said.“We are not going to solve our water shortage until we start building more dams. And we are not going to build more damn until we overhaul the environmental laws that are making their construction cost prohibitive.”

It is yet to be determined if congress and the president will consider his recommendation as McClintock has said to have introduced similar legislation that has gone unnoticed and fallen on deaf ears.

“Wherever we are on the political spectrum, we at least ought to be able to agree that in the middle of a severe drought, we shouldn’t be releasing tens of thousand of acre-feet of water to adjust river water temperatures.”

McClintock acknowledged that there was a good chance that flow plans will be cut back, but said that to suspend the ESA would depend on Barrack Obama and Gerry Brown.

McClintock also spent time at the Oakhurst Chamber of Commerce talking with representatives from the Visitors Bureau, Oakhurst Chamber of Commerce, Madera County Economic Development, Bass Lake Chamber of Commerce, and stakeholders from the community.

McClintock, whose district representation includes five national forests and two national parks, said his three main goals for federal lands include:

* Welcomed public access for more recreation;

* Restoring proper management for healthy forest and having more of a good neighbor mentality between federal government and area residents;

* Conservations while discussing the lack of elasticity in the states water supply.

Darin Soukup of the Oakhurst Area Chamber said it is important for people to use these forums and express their concerns to the congressman through letters and other avenues.

“We set up these forums and its very important that when the congressman holds his public town hall that we are able to have time for our stakeholders to have access to him and be able to address those issues,” Soukup said.