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State and feds increase Delta water exports by 433 percent
by Dan Bacher
Thursday Apr 3rd, 2014 10:55 AM
“The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have chaperoned the decline of fish species for 30 years,” said Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA). “I have little confidence in their claims that they are taking care of the fish. Every year they assure us that they are protecting fish and then the population levels continue to crash.”

Between 2000 and 2011, more than 130 million fish were salvaged at the State and Federal Project water export facilities in the South Delta, according to a white paper released by the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and Restore the Delta in March 2013. Actual losses are far higher. For example, recent estimates indicate that 5-10 times more fish are lost than are salvaged, largely due to the high predation losses in and around water project facilities.

Aerial photo of the Tracy Fish Collection Facility (TFCF) in the South Delta courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.
dmc_fish_facilities.jpg
dmc_fish_facilities.jpg

State and feds increase Delta water exports by 433 percent

No, this is not an April Fool’s Day Joke!

On April 1, State and federal officials announced in a media call that they would “temporarily” allow increased water exports out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to capture run off from the latest storm, in spite of the the threat it would pose to Central Valley salmon, steelhead, Delta smelt and longfin smelt.

Combined pumping levels at the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project will rise from about 1500 cfs to “no more than 6500 cfs over the course of the next few days,” according to Mark Cowin, Director of the Department of Water Resources.

That translates into an increase in Delta pumping by 433 percent. Cowin said the increased pumping would continue for at least a week.

This was done even though Shasta, Oroville, Folsom and other northern California reservoirs remain low for this time of year and many north state cities are now being forced to ration water to residents because of the systematic emptying of reservoirs last year to export water to corporate agribusiness, southern California water agencies and Kern County oil companies conducting fracking and steam injection oil extraction operations.

The decision to increase pumping was the result of political pressure from west side San Joaquin Valley agribusiness interests and their political allies, most notably Senator Dianne Feinstein, even though the Westlands Water District and Kern County Water Agency only contribute .3 percent to the California economy.

Senator Dianne Feinstein and U.S. Representatives Ken Calvert, Jim Costa, Jeff Denham, Kevin McCarthy, Devin Nunes and David Valadao on March 27 sent a letter to Interior Secretary Jewell and Commerce Secretary Pritzker requesting more Delta water for San Joaquin Valley corporate agribusiness interests, claiming that water exports wouldn’t harm endangered Central Valley Chinook salmon, Delta smelt and other fish species.

The officials on April 1 call included Cowin, David Murillo, Regional Director, Mid-Pacific Region, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; Ren Lohoefener, Regional Director, Pacific Southwest Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Will Stelle, Regional Administrator, West Coast Region, National Marine Fisheries Service; and Chuck Bonham, Director, California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Cowin discussed the current water situation, claiming that this water year “in the range of the sixth, seventh or eighth driest year on record.” Cowin admitted that the snowpack was only one third of normal while northern California reservoirs remained low, in spite of recent storms. Lake Shasta, the state’s largest reservoir is at 60% of average for this date, Lake Oroville at 64%, and Lake Folsom at 69%, so still well below average.

However, Cowin and state federal officials claimed that the increased pumping wouldn’t jeopardize endangered Central Valley salmon species, but provided no evidence to justify this claim, other than referring to an “exchange of emails” between state and federal officials.

“In an exchange of emails yesterday, NMFS officials concurred that this temporary adjustment to the inflow/export ratio won’t jeopardize listed salmonids and is consistent with the federal Endangered Species Act,” said Cowin. “ And during this period of time when this adjustment is in effect, another flow requirement that restricts the level of reverse flows in the Old and Middle River channels in the Delta, it’s called OMR, those restrictions will govern pumping levels over the course of the coming days and provide minimum protections for all fish species currently making their way through the Delta.”

Chuck Bonham, Director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, justified his agency’s support of the decision by making the following statement, one of most stunning examples of political double talk I’ve ever encountered.

“I’ve said to some of you before that in my opinion, we’re going to make it through this period because we’re working together, and if you are keeping track, since about the end of January, the five agencies, the two federal fish and wildlife agencies, and my department as well as the two water supply agencies have collaborated to manage at least half a dozen changes which allow us to achieve additional flexibility while still remaining within the boundaries of the existing and applicable laws and regulations.

On the state front, under the state Endangered Species Act, typically what happens is the DWR will consult with my department; my department has the benefit of the NMFS or USFWS findings about the proposed changes pursuant to the federal biological opinions and our department will review and then concurs that the findings are consistent with coverage under the California Endangered Species Act. We know right now that we’ve got most of our major fish species in or about the reach the Delta, and at the same time that we know these are our last likely major rainstorm events which matter a lot for water supply.

To be blunt about it, on every decision we’re making here, some constituents will believe we did not go far enough and other constituents will believe we went too far, and I think that’s a reflection of the challenge and the circumstances we’re in.”

Translation? Bonham is saying that endangered fish species, which he is entrusted to protect in his role as the Director of Fish and Wildlife, can be sacrificed during a drought to supply subsidized water to subsidized corporate agribusiness interests irrigating toxic, drainage impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley!

“So, the State and Federal Government are lifting pumping restrictions to send all the rainfall to unsustainable agribusiness in the San Joaquin Valley, but DWR (the Department of Water Resources) is poised to install drought barriers that will harm North Delta farms and the salmon fishery,” responded Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta. “I guess the government sees no need for the estuary.”

Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) and board member of the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) and Restore the Delta, said the decision to increase Delta exports occurs within the context of decades of violations of state and federal laws protecting fish and ecosystems by the same state and federal agencies entrusted to protect them.

“The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have chaperoned the decline of fish species for 30 years,” said Jennings. “I have little confidence in their claims that they are taking care of the fish. Every year they assure us that they are protecting fish and then the population levels continue to crash.”

Jennings also emphasized that the state and federal governments didn’t mention that Delta salinity standards have already been violated this month. Nor did they acknowledge that more restrictive water standards at Jersey Point, Vernalis and Old and Middle rivers on the Delta went into effect on April 1. Nor did they mention that new standards would go into effect in the Delta at a number of locations on April 15.

“The absurdity is that the Delta water quality standards and biological opinions protecting endangered Chinook salmon, steelhead, Delta smelt and green sturgeon took into account critically dry years like this – and they casually discard the law when industrial agriculture screams for them to ship more water south. The fish always take the hit from the way the state and federal projects are managed,” said Jennings.

The steep decline of Delta fish species is documented by the the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s fall midwater trawl surveys, initiated in 1967. They reveal that the population abundance of Delta smelt, striped bass, longfin smelt, threadfin shad and American shad declined 95.6%, 99.6%, 99.8%, 97.8%, 90.9%, respectively, between 1967 and 2013 (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/02/07/1275862/-The-Emptying-of-Northern-California-Reservoirs)

Here's a transcript of the media call, courtesy of Maven’s Notebook. The entire transcript is an appalling example of political double-talk and scientific misconduct by state and federal officials bowing before corporate agribusiness: http://mavensnotebook.com/2014/04/02/this-just-in-state-and-federal-officials-announce-increased-delta-pumping-to-occur-to-capture-runoff-from-recent-storms/
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