The State Water Control Board’s 3,500-page plan to dismantle the Northern San Joaquin Valley economy in a bid for a net gain of 1,000 more salmon holds water about as well as a sieve.
The entire premise behind initially upping unimpaired flows from February to June on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers to 40 percent of the historical average before reservoirs were put in place unravels when they want to dictate keeping the reservoirs they despise with a minimum storage to create cold water pools for fish year-round.
In the case of the 2.1 million-acre-foot New Melones Reservoir, the state plans calls for it never to drop below 700,000 acre feet. Storage as of Sunday was at 512,719 acre feet.
There are two flaws in the cold water pool plan large enough to ram the twin tunnels through.
First, there would be no cold water pools without reservoirs. On one hand the state if it had its druthers in its Kool-Aid inspired plan to help fish would require the rivers flow as Mother Nature intended from February to June and then demand from July to November that fish be propped up by reservoirs that Mother Nature did not build.
Then there is the little problem of regular river flows and pulse flows from August to November. If New Melones Reservoir drops down to 700,000 acre feet during the month of June as it has done a number of times, where is the state going to get water for fish from?
They are going to steal additional water beyond what they already plan to steal from South San Joaquin Irrigation District and Oakdale Irrigation District. How does anyone know that? The answer is simple. The SSJID and OID have the only other water of consequence on the Stanislaus River watershed.
So have you asked yourself the obvious question yet? Just how numerous were fish in October-November and how far upstream did the salmon go before reservoirs were built on the Stanislaus, Merced, and Tuolumne rivers?
This is not a rhetorical question. The premise of the 10-year odyssey to cobble together a fish and water quality plan for the Delta as mandated by law is based on taking rivers back to a time when there were no reservoirs. The only historical data the state has that predates the SSJID and OID building the original Melones Reservoir deals with precipitation on the Stanislaus River basin and not fish.
In fact the only agencies that have bothered to compile any scientific-based data on salmon numbers on the Stanislaus River are OID and SSJID and that dates back to the 1990s.
There is a real possibility that the building of the Tri-Dam Project by OID and SSJID in the 1950s that included Donnells and Beardsley actually increased salmon on the Stanislaus River and allowed them to go farther upstream.
The state also chooses to ignore data that shows that once ocean-migrating salmon from the Stanislaus enter the San Joaquin River, more than 90 percent fail to make it to San Francisco Bay. The state wants to avoid that discussion because it could mean another fish would be to blame — the non-native bass that are ferocious predators of a number of fish including — surprise, surprise — endangered Chinook salmon and the endangered Delta smelt.
So if the Stanislaus River has to go back to 40 percent of the conditions that existed before reservoirs in order to expand the annual number of Chinook salmon by 1,000, why shouldn’t the Delta have to do the same? Bass were introduced by man just like the reservoirs were.
Let’s see a corresponding reduction in Delta bass to go with the loss of stored water.
There is no argument than man has altered the order of Mother Nature in California. For a moment, set aside the argument some make that man in doing so has simply did what he needs to survive like the rest of Mother Nature.
Why not do a model that takes into account 40 percent of the Delta reverted to its natural state? That means eliminate 40 percent of the levees that allowed manmade islands to be created for farming. It also means 40 percent of the water that flows to Southern California and Bay Area water taps would instead flow into San Francisco Bay. And since there are threatened fish species in the Sacramento River basin created minimum cold water pools in all reservoirs that feed into the river as well as force an additional cutback in water going south.
The state’s plan to “save the fish” is situational ethics at its worst.
It also underscores how out of touch the state water bureaucrats are with reality.
We need to enhance the fish population. We need to have smarter use of water when it comes to urban and farm uses. We need to protect and enhance river ecological systems.
And we need to do it in a responsible manner that doesn’t make man subservient to the environment or vice versa.
The state spent $10 million cobbling together a plan for fish in a complete vacuum that is setting the stage for litigation and not workable solutions.
Instead of getting all players to work together, Sacramento is toying with pushing the California equivalent of the nuclear launch button.
And should they go after legally adjudicated water rights to make their plan work, they will not only be opening the Pandora’s Box of rights of origin as well as riparian water rights but they will also undermine all environmental progress to date when it comes to water.
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.