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No Water = No Business

In a region where water is currency, every spent better be worth it.

Dec 07, 2016

Almost every business needs water.  If you need water and can't get it, you won't be able to get your business going.  The story below is about such a business.  It's about a new Carl's Jr. restaurant proposed for the Travel Plaza at I-5 and Nees that needs 2 acre feet of water a year.  They have to prove they have a source for the water before their plans can be approved.  Their water comes from the San Luis Water District, but the district can't guarantee even this small amount of water to them.   

Why?  Because the State of California can't guarantee how much water will be delivered to the water district.  So, because of state water policy a new business doesn't look like it will happen, just because of 2 acre feet of water.  That's in a state that just let over 12 million acre feet of water flow to the ocean in the past year.  We're going to be seeing a lot more of this.

The Carl's Jr. Story

In a region where water is currency, every spent better be worth it. 


For local businessman Amin Salkhi, proving that his six-acre travel center would be worth its water use has been more than a lesson in development. It’s been a decent into the mire of California water politics.

“I thought it would be enough to offer a project that creates dozens of jobs while using a fraction of the water once used on the site, but it has really been about resistance to the most modest of changes,” said Salkhi.

The Firebaugh Travel Plaza is home to a truck stop and full-service Chevron gas station, a Nathan’s Hot Dogs and a Subway restaurant. Salkhi has created improvement plans to add a Carl’s Jr. franchise and with it more than 30 jobs.

The problem, as is the case so often in the Central Valley, is water use. Salkhi has implemented a highly-reliable water conservation program at the plaza.  The land had historically used 11 acre-feet of water per year. Salkhi installed a septic tank and a reclamation facility to reuse water and reduce usage.  In fact, the Plaza has reduced its water usage to 4 acre-feet per year.  A new Carl’s Jr. would need two more acre-feet.

This year while seeking to expand his business, Salkhi applied to the Merced County Community and Economic Development Department for permission to add the famous Carl’s Jr. Restaurant to the menu of traveling visitors to Merced.  Merced County is in need of new economic development and more jobs.  Salkhi and his new partnership with the Carl's Jr.  franchise will increase the needed traffic to the site and, thus, bring an estimated 30 to 50 more jobs to the small towns of Dos Palos, Firebaugh, Los Banos and Mendota, both which will result in increased tax revenues for the county.  

As part of the process the county is required to refer the project expansion to the San Luis Water District.  The San Luis Water District is a Central Valley Project (CVP) Federal water District. Due to the drought, environmental restrictions and current Federal CVP water delivery policies, the CVP Federal part of the State Water Project DID NOT deliver any federal contracted water to the San Luis Water District in 2014 & 2015, and only delivered 5% of their Federal contracted water allocation in 2016. With no assurance of future reliable CVP water deliveries the San Luis Water District cannot guarantee water deliveries to farms or business's and consequently had no choice but to refuse to supply Mr. Salkhi with a guaranteed “Will Serve” water letter.

With ZERO CVP contracted water deliveries in 2014, 2015 and 5% in 2016 the water district has been unable to meet water users demands. This has devastated local farms, shrunk California's food production and forced hundreds of layoffs of workers.  Now, scores of construction jobs and even more permanent facility employee positions are unavailable to job seekers in our region while the area is suffering with 40% unemployment.

In order for the District to provide the Firebaugh Travel Plaza a “Will Serve” letter for the Carl’s Jr., which will use approximately 2 acre feet yearly, the District needs to be comfortable with the facility securing an additional reliable water source of 12 acre feet per year for 20 years, outside of the San Luis District.  The regulatory impacts on the small business have forced local business people into water research with no one to go to for help.  

The lack of real legislative solutions for water supply distribution has led to equal impacts on all Californians, including job seekers, employers and employees, home builders and homebuyers, those of us who eat and those of us who feed our families - (our way of saying everyone!) 

When we interviewed Salkhi, he was standing in front of his gas stop with a graded area prepped for the expansion that waits.  He told us, “Wow this could be the future of this area but who knew I would have to go through all of this. I understand the challenges that the district faces, but this requirement is arbitrary.” Salkhi continued, “We need a solution to this water crisis so we can put more people to work, increase visitor purchases and generate tax revenue.” 

Instead, there will be no new burgers, no new jobs, no new taxes and no new economic development at the Firebaugh Travel Plaza until Mr. Salkhi finds a new source of water in a drought stricken valley, or Legislation is passed that will solve the problem of CVP Federal contracted water not being delivered to business’s, farms and people. 

P.S.  They will be unveiling the tallest message board in California at the site this Tuesday(12/13) from 11:30am-1:30pm.  The message board is 85' high.  If you're in the area or want to attend you are more than welcome.  They'll have lunch and some give-a-ways.  It's on the NW corner of I-5 & Nees.

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