San Joaquin Irrigation Districts Challenging Federal Authority

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OAKDALE-

The South San Joaquin and Oakdale Irrigation Districts are challenging federal authority.

The two agencies want to hold the Bureau of Reclamation accountable for water they'll use from the New Melones Lake Reservoir for fish which the districts said are necessary for Central Valley farmers and residents.

New Melones Reservoir is at just 23 percent capacity, one of the lowest levels on record and now the water from the reservoir is being drained for pulse flows. A method the Bureau of Reclamation claims will help fish swim up or downstream.

"Our concern is that they will use the water in New Melones to the extent we can’t make our agricultural and drinking water diversions,” Jeff Shields, the General Manager with the South San Joaquin Irrigation District explained.

In drought-ridden California, Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts are challenging the federal government and asking them, ‘just whose water is being used for these fish?’

"Pulse flow that will take about 15-thousand acre feet on top of what’s required in the biological opinion,” he said.

The Bureau of Reclamation declined a request for an on-camera interview. In a statement they said "These pulse flows are required pursuant to implementation of the Federal Endangered Species Act. It is Reclamation's responsibility to follow the law."

The irrigation districts said they understand but their concern is for the residents and farmers who rely on this water like Jake Wenger. “The challenge is in a dry year like this those pulse flows are staying the same as what they might have been during a wet year,” Wenger said.

120,000 acre feet of farmland and 200,000 Central Valley residents depend on the New Melones Reservoir. The Bureau said "We understand that the Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts disagree with the proposed pulse flows and are working with them to try to come to an agreement regarding how to meet these requirements."

"And it will be, literally, drained by the end of this year at the rate that the federal government is operating the reservoir,” Shields argued.

The South San Joaquin Irrigation District said they’ve done their own studies which have shown pulse flows have little to no impact on the amount of fish found in these rivers. The irrigation districts added they depend on water from New Melones for fire protection in the Summer months.