More than 100 farmers, public officials and other "stakeholders" gathered Monday evening at the Madera District Fairgrounds to hear battle plans for what is being termed the latest California Water War.
The San Joaquin River Water Summit, sponsored by Families Protecting the Valley, the San Joaquin River Management Coalition and the San Joaquin Valley Building Industry Association, was convened to bring the public and politicians up to date on developments in the latest round of negotiations on the future of the San Joaquin Valley watershed.
Farmer Denis Prosperi, who chaired the event with County Supervisor Frank Bigelow, said the recently formed San Joaquin River Task force would try to insure that local concerns are addressed in all planning processes affecting the region.
The task force is comprised of the counties of Madera, Merced and Fresno; the Friant Water Users Authority; the Exchange Contractors and the San Joaquin River Resource Management Coalition.
Lynn Skinner, a fourth-generation farmer along the San Joaquin, spoke about the need to include in the discussions those who would be most affected by any decisions.
"We decided to become active participants rather than passive bystanders," she said. "It is our plan to represent all those from the (Friant) dam to the delta."
She also said she would oppose those "who would devalue agriculture and private property rights, and "those who would destroy the historic integrity of California agriculture."
Steve Ottemoeller of the Madera Irrigation District said more water would have to be captured and stored if water were released into the San Joaquin River's lower channel to solve "water quality problems that concern the urbans."
He said studies have been under way to determine how much water could or should be stored. However, he said, the fact that more water should be captured is a foregone conclusioned, as har as he is concerned.
"It seems to me there should be no question that we need additional storage on the upper San Joaquin River," Ottemoeller said.
"The San Joaquin River is fully appropriated," he said. The only additional water that can be stored is seasonal water, which comes quickly and usually spills if it isn't contained.
Information provided at the summit pointed out the dilemma faced by the present water users of the Valley. "Urban interests in California are already looking at San Joaquin Valley water to supply their current and future needs. In addition, the environmental community seeks Valley water for eco-system restoration projects, and water quality projects will be required to assure long-term availability of potable water."
The activities of the San Joaquin River Task Force will come in the wake of many years of negotiations and rulings about the Valley's water.
"There are currently 21 separate and distinct plans, programs and studies in process that relate solely to flood management and protection along the San Joaquin River corridor. The state and federal agencies involved in the preparation of these various plans include the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the State of California Reclamation Board, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the United States Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources.
"The plan that has the greatest potential for significant local impact, and has attracted the most interest and attention recently from the Resource Management Coalition and the Task Force is the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Basins California comprehensive Study, Draft Interim Report.
"On the water supply side, the settlement discussions between the Friant Water Users Authority and the Natural Resources Defense Council are expected to precipitate a first-draft of the San Joaquin River Restoration Plan be December of this year."