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River agreements stall amid focus on delta litigation

With state and federal administrations fighting in court about delta water operations—and with a pandemic and election year both underway—work has slowed on voluntary agreements meant to avoid severe cuts to northern San Joaquin Valley water supplies.

At issue is the first phase of a State Water Resources Control Board plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Adopted in 2018, the regulatory regime would require water users in San Joaquin River tributaries to leave 30% to 50% of unimpaired flows in the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers to benefit protected fish. Water users have pressed the state to pursue voluntary agreements that could achieve the same fisheries goals without the significant water-supply impacts.

California agency leaders say conversations on voluntary agreements continue, though slowly.

“Right now, we are in what has been a pause as far as implementing voluntary agreements,” California Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot told the State Board of Food and Agriculture last month.

Early this year, state water and resource agencies released a framework for voluntary agreements among agencies and water users that rely on the San Joaquin River tributaries.

“We have to turn that framework into a legally enforceable agreement among a range of water users and third parties,” Crowfoot said, adding that the effort has become more challenging, given the dispute between state and federal governments over delta operations and how best to protect endangered species.

The two administrations have been in court regarding new federal biological opinions that determined the proposed long-term operations of the federal Central Valley Project and State Water Project do not jeopardize continued existence of protected salmon and delta smelt. In response, the state issued an environmental permit for the SWP that could place its operation in conflict with that of the CVP.

California Farm Bureau Federation Senior Counsel Chris Scheuring said the effort to create voluntary agreements on delta tributaries has stalled in the meantime.

“We look at the voluntary agreements with so much hope, but now with some exasperation, because it’s a process that’s been hung up and the recent descent into litigation in the delta is not helpful,” Scheuring said. “We hope the state and the federal governments can reconcile delta operations, so that the Sacramento-San Joaquin system can go forward on a reasonable basis to find ways to distribute water under vested water rights, while doing good things for fish species.”

For the state’s part, Crowfoot said, “The goal, frankly, is to move beyond that legal process as quickly as possible to find a settlement with our federal partners on the biological opinions and to resolve legal disputes on our state permit. Settling out these legal issues will allow parties to get back to the table on the voluntary agreements.”

At a virtual meeting regarding the delta last week, state Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth said the state continues to meet with tributary stakeholders.

“Specific to the incidental take permit and the voluntary agreements, there is a degree of potential interaction between those things, should the voluntary agreements be completed over the course of the next months or a year or so,” Nemeth said, adding that the state agency is “in communication with our federal colleagues around how we might bridge some differences between the biological opinions and the California ESA permit and the voluntary agreements.”

Speaking to the CFBF Board of Directors this spring, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said she would like “to see the state come to the table as far as looking for real long-term solutions,” and said state and federal agencies have continued to coordinate daily delta operations.

The Modesto Irrigation District, which with the Turlock Irrigation District owns the Don Pedro Hydroelectric Project on the Tuolumne River, remains in discussions about voluntary agreements for the river, according to district spokeswoman Melissa Williams.

In addition, Williams reported progress in relicensing the facility through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which last week issued the final environmental impact statement for the project.

On the Merced River, the Merced Irrigation District concluded a years-long FERC process for the New Exchequer Dam this month.

Farm Bureau’s Scheuring noted that the FERC process gives government agencies and advocacy organizations additional opportunities to seek more water requirements or other concessions from reservoir operators. Under the federal Clean Water Act, the state water board has qualified authority to review, condition and certify consistency of FERC relicensing decisions with state water quality law.

Should voluntary agreements on the San Joaquin tributaries eventually be reached, the process would include finalizing governance, policy and legal issues, and submitting a proposal to the state water board for review.

A second phase of the board’s bay-delta plan affecting Sacramento River tributaries has not yet been released.

California Assemblymember Adam Gray, D-Merced, said he and many stakeholders in his district, which includes Merced County and part of Stanislaus County, remain committed to finding voluntary agreements.

“Unfortunately, we’re not there yet,” Gray said, “and it seems like it’s been difficult to get people to the table in a meaningful way with the polarization and political posturing by both the state and federal government.”

Private water-rights attorney Tim O’Laughlin said he expects to have a better idea of progress for the voluntary agreements in two or three months.

“Right now, the agreements are just in limbo, hanging out there,” O’Laughlin said. “There are some preliminary discussions, but with COVID and litigation, they definitely got pushed back. They may get resurrected, but I just don’t see that any time soon.”

Article written by Christine Souza for the California Farm Bureau Federation.

THE STORY ABOUT THE COLONEL HOWARD PROJECT

A few months back I was asked to assist with an extremely special project: reuniting the family of Colonel Robert Lewis Howard, a Medal of Honor recipient of the Vietnam War, with the Colonel’s medals, beret, and other belongings. This week, I received these photos, which were such a lovely surprise! 

Adam Gray – California Assembly-member for the 21st Assembly District

Colonel Robert Lewis Howard (July 11, 1939 – December 23, 2009) was a highly decorated United States Army Special Forces officer and Medal of Honor recipient of the Vietnam War. He was wounded 14 times over 54 months of combat, was awarded the Medal of Honor, eight Purple Hearts, a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star, and four Bronze Stars. He retired from the US Army the most highly decorated service member on active duty, after 36 years of service as a full colonel.

Mr. Hart owned a self-storage unit in Dos Palos, where Colonel Howard eventually placed many of his belongings. After several months had passed without receiving rent and unable to contact the Colonel or his family, Mr. Hart opened the storage unit and discovered the Colonel’s medals, beret, and many other items. Mr. Hart then found out the Colonel had passed away, and he was eventually able to reach the Colonel’s nephew (in Dos Palos) and the Colonel’s son (in Merced). They arranged for the return of most of the items, but Mr. Hart brought the beret to me and asked if I would have it framed, so he could present it to his son.

These photos are from the delivery of the beret.

State Budget Makes the Valley’s Dream of a UC Medical School a Reality

(Sacramento) – Assemblymember Adam C. Gray (D-Merced) released the following statement in response to the passage of the 2020 State Budget:

“Earlier this year, I said that a UC medical school in the Valley should be the legacy of this pandemic, not one of its victims. Today, that legacy became a reality. The 2020 State Budget provides $15 million per year every year to support a medical school at UCSF-Fresno and UC Merced. This represents the culmination of decades of tireless work and advocacy that will radically change the health care landscape in the San Joaquin Valley.

“Just as UC Merced has redefined who can go to college by enrolling more first-generation college students than any other campus in the UC system, this medical school will redefine who can be a doctor. It makes medical school a more realistic option for the thousands of Valley students who are qualified to become doctors but who cannot afford to move to places like San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Orange County.

“We know the best way to address the Valley’s shortage of medical providers is to recruit local students, train them close to home, and match them with local residencies. If we check all three of those boxes, they are nearly guaranteed to stay and practice medicine in the Valley. That dream scenario is no longer just a good idea. It is now something that will actually happen.

“When I requested that $1 million be included in the 2015 State Budget to study how to establish a UC medical school in the Valley, I could not have predicted we would be as far along as we are today. By leveraging the incredible resources already available at UCSF-Fresno and UC Merced, we found a path to a medical school in years instead of decades and for millions instead of billions.

“The incredibly talented faculty working at UCSF-Fresno are already graduating hundreds of medical residents every year. Very soon, they and their UC Merced counterparts will begin training our first wave of medical students who will make the promise of health care for all a reality.”

Assemblyman Gray Issues Call for Personal Protective Equipment and Blood Donations

(Merced) – To help meet the urgent need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the North Valley Labor Federation (NVLF), Assemblyman Adam C. Gray (D-Merced), and a bipartisan coalition of other Valley elected officials, are launching the “Central Valley PPE Initiative,” a centralized relief effort to collect medical supplies for first responders and health care workers battling the coronavirus pandemic. The tri-county effort encourages individuals, schools, and businesses to donate essential supplies, such as masks, protective eyewear, surgical gowns, and gloves.

“First responders and trained healthcare workers like nurses and respiratory therapists are critical to containing COVID-19,” said Tim Robertson, Executive Director of the NVLF. “This campaign will ensure they have the equipment they need to protect themselves and prevent further spread.”

“During times like this, we have a responsibility to support those risking their lives and their safety to protect our community,” said Gray. “At a time when many Americans have been told to stay home, our healthcare workers and first responders are showing up every single day to make sure patients receive the care, the support, and the services they need. These individuals are among the true heroes of this historic moment.”

The local effort is inspired by a nationwide campaign of the Service Employees International Union – United Health Workers (SEIU UHW) that has recently uncovered 39 million N95 masks for distribution. Assemblyman Gray is spearheading the drive in Merced County, and Rep. Harder is coordinating efforts in Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties. A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers is supporting the effort, including U.S. Representatives Costa and McNerney, State Senators Galgiani and Caballero, and State Assemblymembers Flora and Eggman.

The group will work to build public awareness of the need for supplies and assist in collecting supplies for distribution by county public health agencies based on capacity and need.

Items needed the most include (donated items must be new or unused):

  •  Masks (Especially N95 Respirators)
  • Eye Protection (Plastic Face Shields and Especially Non-Ventilated Goggles)
  • Surgical Gowns, Shoe Covers, and Caps (Disposable)
  • Surgical Gloves (Disposable)
  • Ventilators
  • Medical thermometers
  • Antibacterial cleaning wipes

Donations can be dropped off at any of the times and locations below. Pick-up is available for bulk donations from businesses or upon request for individuals who are unable to drop off their items. (Geographic restrictions may apply). To schedule a pickup, drop-off, or if you have any questions, you can email cv.ppe.drive@gmail.com or call or text (209) 259-3856

MERCED – Salvation Army Merced, 1440 W. 12th Street, Merced, Mon. through Thurs. from 9am to 1pm.

MODESTO – Crosspoint Community Church, 1325 12th Street, Modesto Tues. & Thurs. from 2pm to 4pm, and Sat. 1pm to 4pm.

TURLOCK – Monte Vista Chapel, 1619 E. Monte Vista Ave., Turlock, Weds. from 1pm to 5pm, and Sat. from 10am to 2pm.

STOCKTON – Laborers Local 73, 3984 Cherokee Road, Stockton, Weds. & Fri. from 11am to 1pm.

Additionally, and to help meet the urgent need for blood donations, Assemblyman Adam Gray will host the Merced Community Blood Drive on April 15 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Italo-American Lodge at 1351 West 18th Street in Merced. Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic began, some 2,700 blood drives across America have been canceled as schools, churches and other public spaces that have been shuttered. After listening to officials with the American Red Cross reiterate that these closures have resulted in the collection of roughly 86,000 fewer units of blood, Assemblyman Gray immediately reached out to the Red Cross.

All eligible individuals are invited to participate in the drive, but appointment slots are limited to maintain social distancing guidelines. To reserve a donation appointment, please call (800) 733-2767 or visit www.redcrossblood.org and enter “95340.” Any questions regarding your eligibility to donate blood can be answered by calling (866) 236-3276.

Assembly-member Adam Gray And His Team

Discussing Health Issues

Adam Gray and his team had the pleasure of meeting with Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN), California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN), Mi Familia Vota, and the Having Our Say Coalition. They had a discussion on the health issues affecting communities of color and need for healthcare in the Central Valley.

Throwing The First Pitch

The Modesto Nuts Professional Baseball Club invited Adam Gray to throw the first pitch at this evening’s game.

Speaking With California Citrus Mutual

Adam Gray was invited to speak with California Citrus Mutual about issues affecting agriculture, the rural economy, and efforts to create more transparency and accountability at the State Water Resources Control Board.

Lunch Meeting With De Jager Dairy

Adam Gray had a lunch meeting at the De Jager Dairy, where he discussed improving roads and infrastructure in our community with Supervisor Lloyd Pareira and Scott Silveira Merced County Supervisor District 5.

Honored Fallen CHP Officers

Senator Anna Caballero and Assembly-Member Adam Gray participated in a tribute to the fallen CHP Officers involved in the Newhall Incident, two of whom have family roots in Merced County. Caballero and Gray spent time with their families and Commissioner Warren Stanley. The ceremony was a dedication of signage that will soon be visible on Highway 99.

Speaking At Western Growers Board Meeting

The Western Growers invited Adam Gray to speak at their Board Meeting. The discussion focusing on the rising costs of water and of energy in the Central Valley, and working together to combat rate increases.

9th Annual Youth Leadership Conference

Assembly-member Adam Gray and his team attended The 9th Annual Youth Leadership Conference. It was organized by the LULAC Los Banos Chapter, hosted at Pacheco High. Gray said, “It is important we continue to empower our youth so that they can reach their educational goals and return home to serve the communities in which they were raised. “

The program is also supported by Los Banos Unified School District, Merced County Office of Education, IBEW Local 684, and the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council.

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