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Call for More Delta Outflow Doesn't Pass Litmus Test

The Bee’s assertion that the foregoing facts are nothing more then “convenient theory” is either selective amnesia or willful ignorance.

May 29, 2013

The following commentary has been submitted to us by Lance Johnson, former General Manager of the Madera Irrigation District. It was sent to the Sacramento Bee on May 19 but they have not yet published it:

The Bee’s recent editorial; “If BDCP were science based, delta flows would be a priority” chides Westlands WD representative Daniel O’Hanlon for a statement that “we don’t think these (proposed) flows do a lot of good for the fish”. The Bee goes on to assert that is just a “convenient theory for water exporters”. Convenient theory? Hardly.

From 1990-1997 regulatory actions stripped the Central Valley Project of an average of 1,400,000 acre-feet (1.5X the capacity of Folsom Lake) per year of water supplies that were previously deliverable to farms and cities, to restore fish populations. These impacts occurred through increased delta outflow, higher in-stream flows, increased reservoir carryover storage requirements and delta pumping cutbacks. The result? Fish populations declined further while average CVP delta export water allocations to farms plummeted 30% and average urban allocations dropped 20%. This period also kicked off the spending of $500+ million per year by water users and state taxpayers for “fishery enhancement programs”, most of which spending continues today.

Then when fish populations didn’t rebound the Environmental Water Account was created to acquire an additional 185,000 AF/Yr to help offset impacts of additional pumping cutbacks. From 2001-2004 the EWA spent $166.2 million (much of it State General Fund revenue money) on water acquisitions. The result? Not only were EWA water acquisitions in direct conflict with historic water transfers for consumptive use by farms and cities but fish populations continued spiraling downward. Most disturbing, though not surprising, was a 2004 scientific peer review by the CalFed Bay Delta Program which could not identify where a single fish had been saved by the EWA. Not One!

Next in 2006, with delta smelt populations continuing to dwindle, still more restrictions were placed on delta export pumping with corresponding increases in delta outflow. 2009 provided a good example of the result; yet another 625,000 AF/Yr was stripped from state and federal agricultural and urban water supplies from Tracy to San Diego and fish populations Still didn’t improve. 2009 also came with proposals for even more delta outflow and pumping restrictions with impacts totaling another 300,000 AF/Yr to further protect salmon, steelhead and green sturgeon.

So now it’s 2013 and the facts, conveniently ignored by the Bee and others, speak for themselves. Over the last 23 years $ billions have been spent on “Central Valley fishery enhancement programs”, annual delta outflow has been increased dramatically, average annual delta export farm water supplies have been slashed by nearly 50%, an area of farm land larger than the state of Delaware now lies fallow and delta export urban agencies have seen their supplies drop by 25-30% and they now face water rationing after just two years of drought. And fish populations just keep going inexorably down.

The Bee’s assertion that the foregoing facts are nothing more then “convenient theory” is either selective amnesia or willful ignorance. Either way it simply doesn’t pass a red face test. Fact is that No amount of additional delta outflow, not even during flood years, has ever been shown to help protect, much less restore, delta fisheries. Which is precisely why the “more delta outflow” mantra simply doesn’t pass a litmus test.

Lance Johnson

Shaver Lake


 

 

Editorial: If BDCP were science-based, Delta flows would be a priority

 

Published Sunday, May. 12, 2013

For more than a decade, the big farm and urban districts that have grown dependent on water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have tried to discredit scientific findings that greater Delta flows are needed to recover endangered species.

"We don't think that these (proposed flows) do a lot of good for fish," said Daniel J. O'Hanlon, who represents the Westlands Water District and other contractors, at an April law conference in San Francisco. "We can't find a relation between fish abundance and flows."

The water contractors, which include Westlands and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, have argued that restored habitat and reduced ammonia pollution would be better for smelt, salmon and other fish. In fact, they are trying to make the claim – through the Bay Delta Conservation Plan – that new habitat and other non-flow measures should be enough to allow them to divert extra water from the Delta through a pair of proposed tunnels.

It's a convenient theory for water exporters. The only problem? Few, if any, independent scientists agree with them. Recently the Public Policy Institute of California asked 122 scientists with Delta expertise about the major stressors facing the estuary. The PPIC compared their responses with those of water exporters, Delta interests and other stakeholders.

Asked which stressors were most important in the degradation of the Delta ecosystem, 78 percent of scientists included flows in their top-two list, with 77 percent including habitat restoration. By contrast, water exporters ranked flows the least important, putting a high value on improving habitat and reducing discharges and invasive species, according to the report "Scientist and Stakeholder Views on the Delta Ecosystem."

As the PPIC concluded, "The lack of shared understanding on Delta science is a major obstacle to effective ecosystem investments. Most engaged stakeholders consult scientific and government reports regularly, but key groups that would be affected by change often come to different conclusions than most scientists (and other stakeholder groups) on the nature of both the problem and solutions."

As the PPIC is careful to point out, it is not just water exporters who put their own self-interested stamp on science. Delta interests put a low value on restoring parts of the Delta for new habitat, even though scientists put that in their top-two list of priorities.

Yet it is not the Delta interests who are driving the train in the Delta. Quite the opposite. For six years, the water exporters have been the force behind the hugely expensive Bay Delta Conservation Plan, arguing that little or no extra water is needed for the Delta, even though freshwater flows through the estuary have been reduced by half in most years. Meanwhile, the exporters have teamed up to finger ammonia from Sacramento's treatment plant as a major stressor, even though most scientists see it as a lower priority to flows and habitat restoration.

This editorial board has called on Gov. Jerry Brown not to approve any tunnel or other "conveyance" project for the Delta until there is a clear understanding among all parties on how much water would be available for the ecosystem, and how much is leftover for water exports. He and his aides want to study that question while the tunnels are built. That is unacceptable. It doesn't mesh with sound science. It won't pass legal muster, and if it is put to a statewide vote, there is a good chance Californians will reject it.

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