Sacramento water debate draws valley growers

SACRAMENTO — Champions of competing fish and farming interests gave state water leaders plenty to think about Wednesday in a long and colorful hearing attended by hundreds of worried people from Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties.

Most attendees from the region argued stridently against the concept of restoring fish runs at the expense of agriculture, the valley’s strongest economic engine. Modesto and Turlock irrigation customers could lose a third of their water in dry years under a proposal to be voted on later this year.

“I would see this as cataclysmic,” said Vito Chiesa, a farmer and chairman of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors, which on Tuesday formally opposed the proposal. It tries to balance wildly different needs, leaving people on various sides upset.

Those speaking for fish and wildlife said the State Water Resources Control Board’s controversial proposal would not go far enough to restore salmon, which were plentiful before people began damming rivers more than a century ago.

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