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????As ideas go, this one was short-lived, lasting just long enough for the feds to get wind of it.

It first raised its head at the June 22 meeting of the Monterey County Water Resource Agency, the arm of Monterey County government that is mainly responsible for ensuring that the growers of the Salinas Valley get enough water for their crops.

The idea was put in the form of a motion: Let us consider easing the the impact of the drought by using just about every ounce of water stored in the county-owned Nacimiento Reservoir. Put another way, let’s open the floodgates so that the flow reaches 250 to 300 cubic feet per second rather than the minimal seasonal level of 60 cubic foot per second designed to provide some irrigation water while also maintaining the riparian habitat and the wildlife it supports.

It took only one day for the idea to travel all the way to the offices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency charged with protecting the ocean environment and the waterways that sustain it.

It took four pages for NOAA to say what it thought of the idea, but it can be summarized in two words. No way!

In a letter of July 1, recently obtained by the Partisan, regional NOAA official Gary Stern said reducing the flows so dramatically would severely jeopardize the already threatened steelhead population.

National fisheries experts believe “the highly impaired status of the population has been further impacted by the prolonged drought conditions, which has greatly restricted or eliminated migration for adult and smolt life stages,” Stern wrote. “…The lack of river flow has precluded all steehead reproduction for at least the last two years and the potential for reproduction the previous two years was very low, if any.”

Stern said the flow was seriously impaired in 2014-15 in part because of the limited storage in the Nacimiento and San Antonio reservoirs and the operation of the Salinas Valley Water Project in back to back dry years, 2012 and 2013. The water project is a principal provider of irrigation water to Salinas Valley farms.

“Implementation of the proposed flow release plan would result in an acceleration depletion of the remaining reservoir storage and would increase the likelihood of precluding a third consecutive steelhead year-class from reproducing,” Stern wrote. Reducing the flow as proposed by county officials would “provide temporary benefits to a very limited number of stakeholders and beneficial uses” while likely resulting in “mortality to all aquatic species present.”

In other words, don’t even think about it.

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Beautiful view on mountain river on Fagaras mountains in RomaniaSO-CALLED AG WAIVER DEEMED DANGEROUS TO WATERWAYS

A Sacramento judge ruled this week that state water officials must do more to protect waterways, including the Salinas River, from pollutants contained in farm runoff.

Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley ordered the state and Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Boards to create a new set of stiffer rules, saying a previous major ruling on the subject, known as the Ag Waiver, weakened environmental protections below what is permitted by state law.

The Salinas River has been plagued by high levels of farm chemicals, especially nitrates, a component of fertilizer used on numerous crops along the riparian route from San Luis Obispo County to the ocean just south of Moss Landing.

The lawsuit was filed in 2013 by the Otter Project and four other non-profit groups, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

According to a statement released by the plaintiffs, agricultural pollution is exempt from regulation by the federal Clean Water Act but is governed by California’s Water Quality Control Act. In a report released in 2010, Central Coast Water Board staff said a number of waterways in the Central Coast region have sustained “well documented, severe and widespread” contamination from ag runoff.

The water board staff concluded that serious steps were required to limit the impact on people and aquatic life. Attempts to stiffen the rules were met by stiff resistance from agriculture, however, and a series of appeals were filed seeking weaker regulation. In October 2013, the state board issued an order that sided with agriculture interests on most key points.

“The financial, legal, and political resources of big agriculture eviscerated and weakened the regulation. Agriculture has every right to use the public’s water but they do not have the right to return it so polluted that it kills the life that lives in it,” said Steve Shimek, executive director of the Otter Project.

The lawsuit took issue with the October 2013 ruling. Representing the coalition of environmental and fishing groups were the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic and the Golden Gate University Environmental Clinic. An individual client who claimed direct injury from the pollutants was represented by California Rural Legal Assistance.

Formal opposition to the coalition lawsuit was filed by the California Farm Bureau Federation, Ocean Mist Farms and the Western Growers Association.

A copy of the lawsuit and additional background can be found here.

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