The Twin Tunnels could become the latest potential casualty of a state water agency’s plan to increase endangered fish numbers in the Delta by taking away water from agriculture and cities.
The State Water Resources Control Board issued draft findings Wednesday that unimpaired flows from the Sacramento River between February to June should be increased to between 35 and 75 percent.
The state — which targeted the Northern San Joaquin Valley first — concedes increasing unimpaired flows from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers by 40 percent will yield perhaps 1,000 more steelhead in any given year while requiring 240,000 acres of farmland to be fallowed, the loss of at least 3,000 direct jobs, and a minimum of $260 million in annual reoccurring losses to the economies of San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Merced counties.
Under formula language in the more detailed proposal for the Northern San Joaquin Valley, had the state’s goal of 40 percent flows from regional rivers been in place during the past year’s drought conditions the South San Joaquin Irrigation District would have had to cut water deliveries by 64 percent to farmers as well as the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy.
About half of the normal year flow through the Delta is diverted to agriculture and urban areas and not released into San Francisco Bay. The water diverted supplies two thirds of California’s 39.4 million residents and more than 3 million acres of farmland.
Increased unimpaired flows into the Delta and out to the Bay would make Gov. Brown’s $15.7 billion twin tunnels project dicey at best.
Brown’s plan calls for Sacramento River basin water heading south to Los Angeles, some points in the Bay Area, and massive corporate farms on the west side of the Southern San Joaquin Valley to be taken out before it reaches the Delta via twin tunnels that will then dump it into the California Aqueduct south of Tracy.
Ironically the state’s notice that it wants to increase unimpaired flows on the Sacramento River partially addresses the double whammy that officials with the SSJID, Oakdale Irrigation District, Merced Irrigation District, Modesto Irrigation District, and Turlock Irrigation District feared would hit the region. Not only would increasing unimpaired flows devastate the region but if the state then turned to the Northern San Joaquin Valley basin to replace reduced flows in the Delta caused by the Twin Tunnels it could hammer farming relying on surface water.
The sketchy framework the state agency outlined Wednesday for increased diversions on the Sacramento River does not touch flows from July to January. However, if they establish higher floors for how low reservoirs can go to afford additional “cool water pool” protection for fish, it could result in reduced releases from reservoirs such as Shasta and Oroville to send a ripple effect to downstream users.
The Twin Tunnels modeling is based on current water withdrawals from the Delta.
The findings released Wednesday makes no recommendation on what the new unimpaired flow would be in the Sacramento River. Instead it will be used to run scenarios of allowing between 35 and 75 percent of all water flowing into the Delta from the Sacramento River to essentially end up in the Pacific Ocean.
Associated Press quoted Kate Poole, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which supports leaving more water in the rivers system, as saying it is a “safe bet” that the recommendation for restoration of more natural flow would cut deliveries of water for people.
“They tell you if we put more water in the river it’ll be better for the fish,” said Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation. “I don’t buy that for a second.”
Hard data collected by biologists on the Stanislaus River supports Wenger’s position.
Water districts relying on San Joaquin River tributaries have prevailed twice in federal court against state and federal agency plans for increased water releases to help engendered fish because the government had no scientific data to back their contentions while the water districts had it to back up their claims.
SSJID, other districts
urging the use of
other methods to help fish
The SSJID and other regional irrigation districts believe a more effective way to help increase the population of endangered fish is to restore habitats for fish as the OID has done at Honolulu Bar in 2012 on the Stanislaus River at a cost of $1.1 million as well as address the issue of non-native fish that are aggressive predators of native fish such as the steelhead.
Increasing the limit and lowering the size of non-native predators that fishermen catch has helped endangered salmon and steelhead on the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest to enjoy higher survival rates.
The SSJID and OID are supporting a petition currently before the Department of Fish and Game Commission to implement the same tools in California to help the federally protect salmon and steelhead.
The requested fishing regulation changes are as follows:
uBLACK BASS: Decrease the size limit from 12 inches to 8 inches while increasing the daily bag limit from 5 fish to 10 fish.
uSTRIPED BASS: Decrease the size limit from 18 inches to 12 inches while increasing the daily bag limit from 2 fish to 6 fish.
The Coalition for a Sustainable Delta notes the predation of the endangered native salmon, steelhead and smelt by non-native species is “well documented” and is a major contributing factoring to their dwindling numbers. They cite a 2011 DFG report that concluded “studies of striped bass feeding habits indicate they consume an enormous volume of fish, overlap in their geographic range with the listed species (the endangered Delta smelt, Chinook salmon, and Central Valley steelhead), and have historically consumed listed species, at times in very substantial quantities.”
Studies by Fishbio biologists on the Stanislaus River reaffirm the DFG’s conclusion about the impact non-native fish are having on endangered fish species.
Experts for the coalition have noted water policies involving the Delta put in place in 2003 set the stage for the steady decline of threatened species in the Delta. Since then state regulators have narrowly focused on increased flows and water pumping restrictions while essentially ignoring predation.
Rainbow trout and steelhead are the same species. Scientists are not exactly sure what environmental factors or inherited traits determine what type of fish a juvenile grows into — rainbow trout that stay in freshwater ort steelhead that migrate to the ocean.
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