Sunday, April 17, 2016

Delta Pumping to Southern California Restricted Despite Rainy Winter

Following-up from yesterday, "Despite El Niño Rains, the Feds Keep Favoring Fish over Farmers."

At the Sacramento Bee:
For the first time in five years, Northern California’s rivers are roaring and its reservoirs are filled almost to the brim.

But you’d hardly know it, based on how quiet it’s been at the two giant pumping stations at the south end of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The pumps deliver Sacramento Valley water to 19 million Southern Californians and millions of acres of farmland in the San Joaquin Valley.

While precipitation has been roughly four times heavier than a year ago, the Delta pumps have produced just a 35 percent increase in water shipments. For every gallon that’s been pumped to south-of-Delta water agencies since Jan. 1, 3 1/2 gallons have been allowed to flow out to sea. Pumping activity has decreased considerably the past three weeks, to the rising irritation of south state contractors.

The reason lies in a combination of poor timing, the drought-ravaged status of several endangered species of Delta fish, a suite of environmental laws and regulations that govern the pumps – and the complexities of the Delta’s intricate network of river channels, canals and sloughs. As regulators have taken extraordinary steps to protect nearly extinct fish species, their decisions to restrict pumping have become another flash point in California’s water wars – one that shows the easing of the drought doesn’t calm the fighting over how water gets allocated.

Congress has weighed in, with House Republicans and California’s senior Democratic senator pushing for more pumping. In Sacramento, federal and state bureaucracies are butting heads in response to competing demands on the Delta’s water.

On one side are the California Department of Water Resources, which operates the State Water Project, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which runs the federal government’s Central Valley Project. These agencies oversee the state’s vast network of dams, pumps and canals, and they are under pressure from their south-of-Delta customers to help replenish groundwater reserves and south state reservoirs that have shrunk after four years of drought.

On the other side are two federal agencies responsible for safeguarding Delta fish protected by the Endangered Species Act: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service. Court rulings empower the agencies to govern Delta water flows, which often translate into pumping limits to keep fish from being harmed.

“This year we saw the fishery agencies, particularly the Fish and Wildlife Service, make more conservative calls,” said Mark Cowin, director of the Department of Water Resources. “My sense is they felt compelled to take every conservative action they could ... to try to prevent extinction.” He said his agency has engaged in “spirited conversations” with the fisheries agencies about their determinations this year.

Many of the water agencies that depend on the Delta pumps say the restrictions are based on faulty science and harming the economy.

“The state will never recover from this water shortage, if they keep operating (the pumps) the way they have been this first three months of the year,” said Johnny Amaral, deputy general manager for Westlands Water District, an influential San Joaquin Valley farm-water contractor. Westlands has been told to expect just a 5 percent water allocation this year from the Central Valley Project.
Keep reading.