The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week partially restored the flow of water through the state and federal pumps in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta near Tracy, after reducing water exports late last year.
Why the cutback? The Federal Agency said too many fish were dying in the pumps. The fish are the tiny, but protected Delta smelt. Under the Endangered Species Act, only a limited number (305) of the smelt can be killed during the entire water year and the fish deaths were quickly approaching that mortality limit prior to the restrictions on pumping. It's believed December storms sent a flush of muddy water down the Sacramento River which in turn triggered the migration of the smelt toward the pumps.
During the recent pumping limits, hundreds of thousands of acre feet of water never made it to water users like cities and Central Valley farmers. That's 25 million people and three million acres of farmland.
Here you have the latest chapter in the ongoing Valley saga "Fish versus Farmers"... and everyone from the Governor to Congressional members is sounding off about it.
Democratic Congressman Jim Costa of Fresno is among those lawmakers and water and wildlife officials who used the pumping restrictions and reduced water deliveries to renew the call for a twin tunnel system to replace the Delta pumps.
The tunnels are backed by Governor Jerry Brown and would cost $14 billion to build in ten years. Those twin intake tunnels would carry water beneath the Delta... running from north to south... bypassing the pumps and an ugly death for the tiny smelt. The proposal is known as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.
Rep. Costa released a statement this week and blasted the decision to restrict the Delta pumps at this time.
Costa said "In a year when we are already facing a tight water supply, the situation has been made even more absurd and devastating to our water users by this regulatory decision. Had the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and the proposed tunnels been completed, our agricultural water service contractors would not have lost a drop of precious water that could have supplied billions of dollars in economic benefits to the people of our Valley. This is another example of how our water system is broken and in need of a permanent solution. For our region to compete in the 21st Century, we must bring real water reliability to the Valley, and the only way to do that is by completing and implementing the BDCP for our long term water needs. There is no other path forward to protect and grow our economy."
The smelt deaths have stopped for now which apparently means the recent migration is over, but the Fish and Wildlife Service is warning that water exports could be reduced again if the fish resume their swim of doom to the pumps.