Delta Smelt Are Poor Swimmers, Unlikely to Reach Pumps

How Many Smelt Are Actually At the Pumps?

By Kristi Diener, Fourth Generation San Joaquin Valley Farmer

Delta smelt are poor swimmers. When they have to swim against voluminous outflows, they struggle. They also lack endurance for distance and swimming against currents. This was the result of the taxpayer-funded swim performance test conducted more than 20 years ago. Why is this important?

Delta smelt live in the freshwater/saltwater mixing zone made up of outflow from the fresh waters of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, and the inflow of saltwater pushed towards that freshwater from the ocean tides. Smelt leave this mixing zone in search of freshwater to spawn, in the late winter to early spring. It is the same time of year when the outflows from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers are at their peak. Recently, water surging out from the rivers was equal to 104,900 basketballs per second!

If the smelt are able to swim against these powerful outflows, they don’t go too far, and generally spawn pretty close to the nearest region of freshwater they can find in the delta. However, most smelt being surveyed during spawning are not in the delta at all, rather, in the much smaller waterways to the north where there is a fraction of the freshwater outflow. Twenty-one years ago, UC Davis acknowledged outflows from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers are actually too high for the endangered smelt!

Delta smelt by metric ruler Photo: USFWS
Delta smelt by metric ruler
Photo: USFWS

Let’s jump to the “pumps.” They are about 60 miles away from where smelt live in the mixing zone of the Suisun and San Pablo Bays. The pumps capture water at the south end of the delta, where it later flows into storage at San Luis Reservoir. Eventually, it is conveyed south to 2/3 of the state.

Water that is not captured by pumping surges out from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers into that mixing zone. These pumps are routinely throttled back because, according to the Smelt Biological Opinion, smelt are in danger of getting sucked-in and killed. The result of not pumping is huge losses of water for human use and huge increases of outflow from these two rivers into the ocean.

So how many smelt, who lack endurance for long swims according to the swim performance test, are actually surveyed near the pumps and at risk of being liquidated? Every month, a trawl survey is conducted to count smelt and find out where they’re hanging out. I pulled up the fish distribution maps for every monthly trawl over a 10-year period. The closest a smelt has been surveyed near the pumps is about 30 miles away from them, seven years ago.

Still, in spite of their own swim performance tests, the opinion is that smelt swim about a 60 mile, squiggly endurance course, destined for the pumps. Remember, they spawn in freshwater, but actually, live back in the mixing zone where they must return. Nonetheless, this opinion is the very hypothesis that ratchets back pumping at full capacity and prevents the securing of water for humans. There are many other facets of the opinion that are questionable as well. Incidentally, just two smelt have been surveyed anywhere in the last 10 months.

Here’s the good news. President Trump signed an executive memo in October, requiring the Biological Opinions to be reviewed and updated. The science is well over a decade old. Please notice it is called an “opinion”, not a fact. Trump set a timeline and a deadline to get it done too. The assessment phase had to be completed by January 31, and it was. The deadline for the new Opinions to be issued is 135 days after the assessment, which I calculate to be around June 15th. I’m counting.

In the next couple of months, we’ll likely be hearing a whole bunch of malarkey coming from the folks favoring water for the sea in the name of fish, instead of for humans and the earth. There will be an uproar when the Biological Opinions are revised to actually help endangered fish, instead of being used as a vehicle to implement an agenda of man-made water shortages, more regulations, increased fees, and new taxes. You will hear misinformation, but you will know the truth.

Delta Smelt Performance Test can be found here.

Tulare County Ag is Down But Strong

Tulare County Annual Crop Report is Down But Still Strong

 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

The numbers are in for the 2015 Tulare County Annual Crop and Livestock Report.  Marilyn Kinoshita, Agricultural Commissioner/Sealer of Tulare County, reported, “We had an overall value of $6.9 billion, compared to last year, which was more than $8 billion,” which means the County led the nation in total crop value and dairy production, despite a decrease of nearly 14% in one year.

Tulare County’s top ten crops [crop value] in 2015 were:

  1. Milk
  2. Cattle & Calves
  3. Oranges- Navels & Valencias
  4. Grapes
  5. Almonds Meats & Hulls
  6. Tangerines – Fresh
  7. Corn – Grain & Silage
  8. Silage – Small Grain
  9. Pistachio Nuts
  10. Walnuts

Kinoshita explained, “Dairy is our number one industry here. Our milk production was off a little bit. We have fewer dairies in business now because of the low milk prices. Anytime your fresh market milk is off, that’s going to affect our overall value. A good 2/3 of that billion-dollar decrease came from the dairy industry. The price was low the entire year, as opposed to the year before.”

Marilyn Kinoshita, agricultural commissioner, Tulare County
Marilyn Kinoshita, Tulare County Ag Commissioner

 

Thus far, the reported 2015 county crop reports in the Central Valley are down this year. “Fresno County, for instance, was down 6.5% off its record $7 billion in 2014,” Kinoshita said.

 

“It has a lot to do with low water deliveries in Fresno and Tulare Counties,” she continued. “The smaller the water deliveries, the more efficient those growers have to be with that water. Anytime you’re pumping water out of the ground, it’s terribly expensive,” she noted.

 

“Some of our growers have had to decide, ‘All right, I’ve got this much water; I’m going to keep those blocks alive and I’m going to push an older block that isn’t producing as well.’ The returns aren’t as good as some of the newer plantings,” said Kinoshita.

 

Despite all of that, Kinoshita said agriculture does sit at the head of the table in Tulare County. “Yes, and we need a successful Ag industry to thrive here,” she said.

 

To view a video of the interview, click HERE.

 

Tricia Stever Blattler, executive director of the Tulare County Farm Bureau, noted the crop report demonstrates the strength of the agricultural industry. “I think every year when this crop report comes out, it is always a testament to the resiliency of this industry. This industry takes hard knocks, gets knocked down, then steps right back up to the plate and keeps swinging,” Blattler said. “The agricultural sector has a lot of outside challenges that impact the number that we see reported every year.”

 

Tricia Stever Blattler
Tricia Stever Blattler, executive director , Tulare County Farm Bureau

Blattler acknowledged the crop value numbers do not reflect net revenue for growers. “It’s always really important for our listeners to know that the crop value is a gross revenue number. When our Ag Commissioner steps to the microphone and speaks to our Board of Supervisors about this report each year, she’s reflecting values that are attributed to all of the gross revenue, and it’s not only the field value,” Blattler said.

 

“That gross number reported each year also represents our packing houses, our milk processing facilities—the creameries, the butter plants—the packing shedsall those other parts of our industry that [create] value in our industry,” said Blattler.

 

Blattler noted up or down, it’s all about the resiliency of farmers. “The industry has its years that are really blockbuster and it has its years when it falls back and we see a reduction acreage. We see reductions in surface water deliveries. The drought is still certainly playing a significant role in the numbers we’re seeing,” she explained.

 

With regard to surface water, Tulare County is in a bit of a unique position. “As an Eastside county, some of our water deliveries are not as subject to the situation that the Westside is in. In the same sense, we have some significant cutbacks that have been attributed to the San Joaquin River’s restoration and the biological opinions in the Delta—all have had an impact on the Central San Joaquin Valley [water] deliveries regardless of whether you’re Eastside or Westside.

 

“Also, as the exchange contractors either take greater deliveries of water or give up water, that also impacts the amount available to Eastside growers here in Tulare County,” she said.

 

In summary, 2015 Tulare Crop Report covers more than 120 different commodities, 45 of which have a gross value in excess of $1 million. Although individual commodities may experience difficulties from year to year, Tulare County continues to produce high quality crops that provide food and fiber to more than 90 countries worldwide.


Featured photo: Tulare County 2015 Crop Report