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California' Fish Fry

So, is this a valient effort by the governor to re-plumb the delta? Or a giant $25-billion waste of time and money?

Jul 29, 2013

The article below (California's Fish Fry) from the Wall Street Journal doesn't tell those of us in the Central Valley anything we don't know, but maybe the rest of the country will begin to understand the folly that passes for water policy in the Golden State. The Journal does point out that "more smelt are captured by biologists conducting population surveys each year than are trapped by pumps. An easier way to protect smelt would be to stop these surveys, which officials at California's Natural Resources Agency tell us aren't reliable anyway."

Although the article points out that Governor Jerry Brown is leading a valient effort to re-plumb the delta, it goes on to say "as an added safeguard against "a catastrophic event in the wild," the state plans to spend $375 million to create a "conservation hatchery to house a delta smelt refugial population." Hundreds of millions more "would also be allocated to mitigate the project's impact on two dozen other protected species such as the tiger salamander, giant garter snake and valley elderberry longhorn beetle." Another billion or so would go toward "militarizing the delta to protect the smelt from invasive species like Brazilian waterweed and predators like the striped bass."

To pay for all this "the annual water bill for urban residents would increase by $60 to $84 while farmers would pay $150 to $200 more per acre-foot. That translates into about $100,000 more for the average farm."

So, is this a valient effort by the governor to re-plumb the delta? Or a giant $25-billion waste of time and money? The article ends by saying "the Governor and the state's Congressional delegation will have to bring their pressure to bear on the Obama Administration to loosen pumping regulations and smelt protections."

If we could loosen pumping regulations and smelt protections, we wouldn't need to re-plumb the delta. That system is in place right now.



California's Fish Fry

Jerry Brown has a water plan for the Central Valley. Greens hate it.


President Obama says he wants to "redesign government" and deliver services in a "smarter" way. Terrific. Perhaps he could start by ensuring a reliable water supply to people living in the devolving state of California.


The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation this spring cut water deliveries to farmers and the two-thirds of Californians who live south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to between 20% and 35% of their contractual allocations. The reason? Because 300 three-inch smelt were caught in the pumps at the south end of the delta. Since the smelt is designated "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, it's being protected at literally all costs.

 

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WSJ editorial writer Allysia Finley on why environmentalists are opposing Governor Jerry Brown's plan to bring more water to California's Central Valley. Photo: Associated Press

 

Thus 800,000 acre-feet of water this spring was flushed into the San Francisco Bay. That's enough to sustain 800,000 families, irrigate 200,000 acres of land, grow 20 million tons of grapes and employ thousands of workers. Although California's jobless rate has fallen to 8.6% and is around 5% in the Bay Area, unemployment in the Central Valley remains in double digits.


As a side note, you don't need to worry about your next shipment of Sonoma pinots. Northern California vintners don't get their water from the delta. Nor do the liberal titans in San Francisco's tony Pacific Heights who bankroll the green groups that demanded the pumps be shut.


The real kicker is that more smelt are captured by biologists conducting population surveys each year than are trapped by pumps. An easier way to protect smelt would be to stop these surveys, which officials at California's Natural Resources Agency tell us aren't reliable anyway. No surprise, the Department of Interior hasn't heeded the President's calls to strike senseless regulations and is refusing to ease pumping restrictions.


Enter Governor Jerry Brown, who's leading a valiant if unlikely effort to re-plumb the delta to help both fish and farmers. Under his plan, the state would dig two new 35-mile underground tunnels to convey water from the Sacramento River's mouth in the north to the delta's southern end. Pumps with high-tech screens to protect the fish would be located near the river's mouth, thus preserving the delta's natural water flows.


More than 100 demonstrators rallied at the Capitol to protest against a plan announced by Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, to build a giant twin tunnel system to move water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to farmland and cities.


Cameras would also be installed to monitor the pumps, and biologists would document fish caught in the screens. Fish remains that can't be identified would be sent for DNA analysis. As an added safeguard against "a catastrophic event in the wild," the state plans to spend $375 million to create a "conservation hatchery to house a delta smelt refugial population." Will the smelt be guaranteed a right of return?


Hundreds of millions would also be allocated to mitigate the project's impact on two dozen other protected species such as the tiger salamander, giant garter snake and valley elderberry longhorn beetle. Relocating shrubs for the beetle could alone cost $9 million.


An additional $1 billion would go toward militarizing the delta to protect the smelt from invasive species like Brazilian waterweed and predators like the striped bass. A couple dozen wardens would monitor illegal fishing. The state estimates that all of these extraordinary measures could increase water exports by about 25%, though water shortages would persist.


Since state law requires "beneficiaries" to pay for such infrastructure projects, water users would have to foot most of the roughly $45 billion cost (which includes debt financing). The annual water bill for urban residents would increase by $60 to $84 while farmers would pay $150 to $200 more per acre-foot. That translates into about $100,000 more for the average farm.


Ironically, green groups are protesting the governor's plan because, in the words of Sierra Club director Kathryn Phillips, it is "directed toward the interests of the largest project water users"—heaven forbid—"rather than Delta residents or Californians as a whole." The truth is that environmentalists don't want to send more water south because water supports growth and development that they oppose. If the costs don't kill Mr. Brown's proposal, the greens will.


To rescue Californians from this government-made drought, the Governor and the state's Congressional delegation will have to bring their pressure to bear on the Obama Administration to loosen pumping regulations and smelt protections. Perhaps they could point out that it's "smarter government."

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