Breaking News: Contracted Contractual Water Deliveries Could Plummet

Breaking News: 

Promised Water Deliveries Could Plummet

Delta Smelt Among Many Reasons for Pumping Constraints

By Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor

Farmers in the federal water districts of Fresno and Kings Counties were granted only five percent of their contracted water this year; yet they are at risk of getting even less due to pumping constraints. Jason Peltier, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, a Los Banos-based federal water district explained, “The original forecast had full pumping in June, July, August, and September.

“Because of the temperature constraints and because of the water quality standards,” Peltier stated, “we’ve been operating only one or two pumps. There’s just not enough water flowing south to meet the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation) obligations to the exchange contractors, the [wildlife] refuges and the urban agencies, along with the 5% allocation to the ag services contractors,” he noted.

SLDMWAPeltier is concerned for those in the Central Valley, and water agencies are working frantically to find answers. “We’re working on it,” Peltier affirmed. “We’ve got a lot of engineers and operators preparing spreadsheets and analyzing both the variables and what changes could be made to avoid lower water levels at San Luis Reservoir.”

Commenting on this year’s deliveries, Peltier stated, “No doubt we’re in an unprecedented operating environment. Here we are, eight months into the water year, and we just got a temperature plan for Lake Shasta—that is driving the whole operation—the project. Limiting releases like they are in the temperature plan [designed keep the water cold to protect winter-run salmon eggs]at least we thoughtwould allow Reclamation to hold the commitments they made. But we’re on razor’s edge right now,” Peltier explained.

Peltier described how the process is holding up water release, “The National Marine Fisheries Service wants to keep as much water in storage as possible, in order to keep the cold water cool as long as they can. This is all to protect the winter-run salmon eggs that are in the gravel right now, protect them until the weather turns cool and things naturally cool down. Then they can release water. Shasta’s been effectively trumped by another million-acre feed because of this temperature plan.”

Peltier further noted that the Lake Shasta temperature plan has not allowed water to flow into the Sacramento River. It has severely impacted growers in Northern California on a year when the northern part of the state received above average rain and snowfall during the winter.

“People diverting off the river in the Sacramento Valley have had their own water level issues. There hasn’t been enough water coming down the river to get elevation enough adequate for their pumps. There’s been a lot of ground water pumping,” he said.

The nearly extinct Delta Smelt has been a longstanding issue for those affected by California’s drought. After the past five years of sacrifice, even more water is being taken from agriculture and cities to help save the fish from extinction.

“We’ve got the California Department of Fish and Wildlife wanting significant increases in delta outflow over the summer, supposedly for the benefit of delta smelt, another operational complexity that is sadly not based on any science that we could see. The agencies have their beliefs, and they have the power,” said Peltier.

Featured photo: Jason Peltier, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority.


California Ag Today will update readers on Bureau of Reclamation announcements about the 5% contracted water delivery federal water district growers were expecting.

Feinstein Urges President to Increase Delta Pumping

Feinstein Calls on President to Direct Federal Agencies to Increase Delta Pumping

 

Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) TODAY called on President Obama to direct federal agencies “to maximize pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the maximum extent allowed under the Endangered Species Act and biological opinions.”

Feinstein wrote in her letter to the president: “I believe that this year’s El Niño has highlighted a fundamental problem with our water system: A dogmatic adherence to a rigid set of operating criteria that continues to handcuff our ability to rebuild our reserves. We need a more nimble system. That’s why I included $150 million the past two years in the Energy and Water budget—so that decisions would be based on real-time data, rather than relying on intuition.”

Full text of the letter follows:

March 24, 2016

The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I ask you to direct the Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Marine Fisheries Service to maximize pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the maximum extent allowed under the Endangered Species Act and biological opinions. Water flows in the Sacramento River are the highest they have been in four years. Just last week, flows in the Sacramento were as high as 76,000 cubic feet per second. We’ve only seen flows that high twice in the past ten years, and not once during this drought. Yet the Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service are now considering reducing pumping due to concerns about larval smelt.

Despite these high flows, rather than pumping as much water as possible without undue harm to the smelt, pumping levels remained constant for the past month (see Chart B). Coupled with the fact that only three individual smelt were caught at the pumps this year, and that the most recent trawls revealed no Delta smelt in the south Delta, it seems to me that the agencies operate the system in a manner that may be contrary to the available data, culled from what is already a limited monitoring regime. I understand that the biological opinions impose a ceiling of -5,000 cubic feet per second, but the agencies have the discretion to exercise at least some flexibility to pump above that level.

To put this all in context, between January 1 and March 6 last year, 1.5 million acre-feet of water flowed through the Delta and 745,000 acre-feet were pumped out. During the same period this year, 5.5 million acre-feet of water flowed through the Delta, but only 852,000 acre-feet were pumped out (see Chart A). If we can’t increase pumping during an El Niño year, then when else can we?

The agencies have also put California and the communities that depend on this water in a Catch-22: Pumping is reduced when there are concerns about the presence of smelt caught as far away as 17 miles from the pumps. Yet agencies will also reduce pumping due to the absence of smelt, based on the idea that historically low smelt populations make detection difficult.

I believe that this year’s El Niño has highlighted a fundamental problem with our water system: A dogmatic adherence to a rigid set of operating criteria that continues to handcuff our ability to rebuild our reserves. We need a more nimble system. That’s why I included $150 million the past two years in the Energy and Water budget—so that decisions would be based on real-time data, rather than relying on intuition.

There are real-world consequences to the decisions being made in the Delta. 69 communities in the Southern San Joaquin Valley reported significant water supply and quality issues. And land is caving, bridges collapsing, as a result of overdrawn ground wells and subsidence. That’s why we need to make sure we’re using every possible tool to make the right choices. Basing pumping decisions on better science and real-time monitoring is the least we can do.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

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