Ready for the ultimate fish fry?
The Bureau of Reclamation is.
And if things keep trending as they are now, it will happen this summer.
That’s because the Bureau released an extra 25,000 acre feet of water out of New Melones Reservoir into the Stanislaus River in October to help lure Chinook salmon to their death by boiling water.
Well, not exactly boiling water. It will be in water that’s way too warm for them to survive.
This isn’t science fiction. It’s research and science that the holier than thou environmental perfectionist — not protection — crowd refused to consider or even acknowledge.
Biologists with Fishbio have determined that once New Melones drops below 500,000 acre feet in the summer it will create an environment that’s downright hostile to the Chinook salmon when it comes to their chances for survivor. The reservoir at that level will no longer have cold water that Chinook salmon need to thrive and survive.
Meanwhile, the Bureau wasted water last October that might come in mighty handy this year. The 25,000 acre feet is roughly enough to meet the water needs of Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon for more than three years or 331,000 Californians for a year.
Ignoring biological data that shows the habitats on the Merced and Tuolumne rivers are much better suited for larger fish numbers than the Stanislaus River, the Bureau created an October flow in the Stanislaus of 1,200 cubic feet per second that would only occur every 100 years if it had been left as a wild river.
As a result Chinook salmon that would not have gone up the Stanislaus if things happened the way nature intended went up any way.
So in the middle of one of the most severe droughts on record, the Bureau makes a release from New Melones in October that would be equivalent of an exceptionally wet year. They also didn’t back up the decision with biological data that various water agencies asked them to produce.
The fish fry won’t happen if above normal snow and rain happens in the next two months. Of course that will get the fish out of hot water but it may not do much to help inconsequential things like people and raising the food to feed them.
Last month was the driest January ever recorded on the Stanislaus River watershed.
The Bureau, of course, didn’t know how much rain would fall in January. That’s exactly the point. They didn’t know. And they didn’t care. Just like their head-in-the-sand operation of New Melones in December of 1996 brought New Melones dangerously close to being breached. Instead of reacting to the cards Mother Nature was playing — a heavy early snowpack in the Sierra followed by extensive and unseasonable warm rain in the higher elevations — the Bureau stuck to their operating plan. Some argue the heavy releases they made at the last minute to stop New Melones from being breached triggered the massive 1997 flooding south of Manteca.
You’ve got to follow the book. So what if you create conditions that can create an unprecedented flood and release a wall of massive destruction and death on people? The Bureau was more focused on criticism that they failed to carry enough water over years earlier in a serious drought period.
Now the Bureau is acting like things are normal — or are going back to normal — this year. They should have been operating in accordance to conditions in the Sierra and the reality of critical reservoirs being drawn down for three consecutive years. Instead they responded to bureaucrats and chest thumping environmental perfectionists.
So how bad is it?
At Beardsley — a reservoir operated above New Melones — normally 6.19 inches of precipitation falls in January, one of the three biggest months for snow and rain. Instead only 0.13 inches of rain fell last month.
New Melones is now at 561,000 acre feet out of 2.4 million acre feet of capacity. In 2014 on Feb. 1 there was 1.047 million acre feet of water in storage, in 2013 some 1.624 million acre feet and in 2012 there was 1.975 million acre feet.
Models based on the current trend means the Bureau will have only 94,000 acre feet that it can use for Stanislaus River flows this year. It requires178,000 acre feet of water to meet minimal flow requirements for the Stanislaus River.
Do the math. There’s not enough water.
Of course the Bureau could try to steal water to make up for their reckless management of New Melones. The only way they can get water is to steal it from South San Joaquin Irrigation District and Oakdale Irrigation District.
Two districts are legally entitled to the first 600,000 acre feet of runoff each year as part of the deal to allow the federal government to inundate Melones Reservoir — a dam the two districts built in 1925 — in order to build New Melones Reservoir. On top of that, the SSJID has court adjudicated pre-1914 water rights. There’s no card that trumps that providing you play by the rules.
Water rights, of course, are meant for times like this.
Rest assured the SSJID is going to take any threat to the water rights secured on behalf of the people in and around Manteca, Ripon and Escalon seriously and respond accordingly.
The Bureau has made it clear that they are willing to ignore the laws of nature. It’s not too much of a stretch for them to ignore the laws of man as well.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.