5 Percenters and Endangered Fish May Both Lose
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
Will the 5 Percenters—the Federal water users in California who were restricted by a 95% water allocation reduction this year—actually receive the promised 5% allocation? This scenario follows a more-than-average winter rainfall and snowfall throughout the state.
Ryan Jacobsen, executive director and CEO of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, said, “arguably it’s turned out to be much worse. Right now, for the initial 5% allocation to even be questionable right now is just absolutely insane. It all boils down to the amount of water being held up in Lake Shasta for fish purposes, which has put a major stranglehold on what’s happening down here at this point,” noted Jacobsen.
At Shasta Reservoir, a keystone reservoir of the Central Valley Project, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation essentially discharged flood releases earlier this year just to make room for the water that was expected to come in. Shasta now stands at a above average full for this time of year, because the Feds are holding all the water for release for salmon later.
This is part of the plan to have cold water available to release for the salmon. And Shasta actually has 30 percent more cold water than what they thought, and water leaders are pushing hard to get the Feds to release it for agriculture.
And San Luis Reservoir is at a dead-pool status, which insures no more water can be sent south from that reservoir. Dead pool means no more water can be drawn from San Luis Reservoir, which does not bode well.
Jacobsen said, “This means our federal contractors’ 5% is in question. And that’s the irony: we were looking at such a strong year—or at least an average year [of precipitation]—and ending up now where our meager water supply is in jeopardy. This is incomprehensible and inexcusable from the federal side.”
Shasta has both federal and state water, and the federal side is essentially nothing at this point, explained Jacobsen. “Farmers rely upon San Luis Reservoir water for July and August irrigation, “and the water is essentially gone at this point,” he said. “It just shows you the major mismanagement we’re seeing from the federal side and the inability to capture water even when it is available, and not at the demise of any of these species.”
Jacobsen reiterated, “Back when the precipitation was falling [last winter], water was available at some extraordinarily high levels; yet, we never saw the increase in pumping that we would have expected under the normal conditions. “Of course, we’ve seen less pumping this year for the farmers and the cities south of the Delta,” noted Jacobsen. “During the times of the rainfall this year, it was essentially excuse, after excuse, after excuse. Some newer excuses pertained to why the pumps were not operating or operating at a very reduced capacity,” explained Jacobsen.
“The situation has been frustrating for a couple of years, but the anger continues to build because right now, this is not a ‘Mother Nature’ issue. It is completely a man-made regulatory drought that is, again, just incompetency at its best.”
“When we talk about the water stored behind Shasta [Dam] right now, really it is for the fish,” noted Jacobsen. “The most-watched fishery, at this point, is the salmon fishery. We’re in year four of this drought, but when it comes to the critical side of fish, the salmon essentially operates in three-year cycles. The last two years have been arguably two of the worst years on record for them, and this potential third year is a kind of make-it-or-break-it for salmon fisheries in the Delta region.”
Unfortunately, per Jacobsen, many decisions have been based on guesstimates. “There are a lot of folks who think we need to reserve all of this cold water for a fishery that may or may not be responding to what has been done in the past for this [contracted irrigation] water that has been given up for those purposes,” Jacobsen explained. “Right now, I think we’re doing a lot of experiments at the cost of jobs and employment, and most importantly, the farms here in the San Joaquin Valley. The frustration is that science is really not playing a big part in it. A lot of decisions are just simply, ‘We think we should be doing this versus what the science actually says we should be doing.’”
Jacobsen’s leading frustration is that all that water taken from farmers and given to fish has not helped the fish at all. In fact, the smelt and salmon numbers continue to decline. “I talk about growing frustration and anger from so many folks in the last couple of years… specifically because it hasn’t made a difference,” said Jacobsen. “An exorbitant amount of water has been given up for these fisheries, [endangered fish populations] continue to decline and crash, and as we’ve been saying for years, it is beyond time to look at just the water exporters,” he added.
Jacobsen maintains other stressors should be seriously investigated. “Many other issues taken place in the Delta should be pulled into play here, but again the regulators and the environmentalists continue to look only at the exporters as the sole issue for fish decline. There are so many other factors out there that need to be looked at,” he said.
Highly recommenced reading: “We are the 5 percenters, stretching our water supplies to get by,” by Joe Del Bosque, Contributing writer, The Orange County Register, July 14, 2016.