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SWRCB & FERC Want the Water Now and Will Look for the Benefits Later!

We can no longer simply say that fish need more water. It's more complicated than that.

Jan 07, 2013

The State Water Resources Control Board is proposing to help fish by reducing average annual diversions on the Tuolumne River by 15% and on the Merced River by 13%. Critics say there are no estimates of what the benefits would be other than a vague "aim to improve conditions for salmon and other life" in the rivers and the Delta. Allen Short, executive director of the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority, said "if you're going to ask people to make this serious sacrifice you'd better be darned sure you know what the benefits are, and the fact is, they have not even estimated what, if anything, will be achieved by increasing flows."

So, we have the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a federal regulation agency, changing flow requirements (taking water from farmers to give to others) through dam(n) relicensing and now the State Water Resources Control Board, a state board, changing flow requirements through state regulations. On top of that, you have the various lawsuits filed in state and federal courts to get more water under the Endangered Species Acts.

Mike Wade with the California Farm Water Coalition complains that "water supplies are being cut without any plan to determine what, if any, benefits will be to the environment. We can no longer simply say that fish need more water. It's more complicated than that." Indeed it is. We have listed the many stressors that impact the Delta like predatory striped bass eating salmon and smelt and the dumping millions of gallons of ammonia into the Delta from sewage treatment plants. The sewage plant issue has been resolved legally, but it will be years before it is cleaned up. In the meantime, it's the same old take-water-from-farmers solution that has failed to work over and over again. Kind of like politicians who raise taxes now and will look for spending cuts later.

 

Reduction in Tuolumne, Merced river diversions proposed

 

By John Hollandjholland@modbee.com


A state board proposes to help fish by reducing average annual diversions on the Tuolumne River by 15 percent and on the Merced River by 13 percent.

The idea drew protest Thursday from water suppliers, including the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts, which argue that the reductions would be especially tough in dry years.

A fishing industry leader, on the other hand, said even more water is needed in the rivers.

The proposal came from the State Water Resources Control Board, which aims to improve conditions for salmon and other life in the lower rivers as well as the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Most of the increased flows would happen from February through June each year, when young salmon are heading out to the Pacific Ocean, but the districts are trying to store water for summer.

"Restoring our fisheries is not a problem that can be solved by simply throwing more water down the river," said Allen Short, executive director of the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority, in a news release.

Short, who retired as the MID's general manager last month, now heads a group made up of several water suppliers on the Tuolumne, Merced and Stanislaus rivers.

They include the Modesto, Turlock, Merced, Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts, as well as the San Francisco-owned system that supplies many Bay Area residents.

The proposal would reduce average annual flows in the Stanislaus by 3 percent because it already contributes a greater share to fisheries than the other rivers. This did not ease the concerns of the critics, who said the overall plan still relies too much on increasing flows.

Under the proposal, which the state board could approve in August, the February-June flows on all three rivers would increase to 35 percent of the natural conditions before they were diverted.

The rivers need to run at twice that volume if the depleted fisheries are to recover, said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations.

Commercial fishermen in the San Francisco-based group endured shutdowns of salmon fishing in 2008 and 2009.

"I don't think anyone wants to do away with agriculture, but at the same time, we need to take a look at what kind of crops we are growing," Grader said.

The state board said the increased flows would cut farm income in the region by just 1 percent. Reduced water supplies would likely mean that farmers turn from lower-value crops such as corn to higher-value crops such as almonds, the board said.

The irrigation district group said fish would benefit more from nonflow measures such as restoring streambeds, reducing predation by non-native striped bass, changing ocean fishing rules and improving hatchery practices.

"If you're going to ask people to make this serious sacrifice," Short said, "you'd better be darn sure you know what the benefits are, and the fact is, they have not even estimated what, if anything, will be achieved by increasing flows."

The proposal would shift much of the districts' hydroelectric generation to earlier in the year, when it is of less value, but the loss would not be substantial, the board said.

The proposal comes as the MID and the TID are seeking a new federal license for the Don Pedro hydropower plant. This process could result in increased flows downstream, but managers have said they should not be on top of what the state board requires.

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