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How Many Smelt Does It Take To Shut Down The Pumps? 93!

Feb 08, 2011


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Denis Prosperi
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How Many Smelt Does It Take To Shut Down The Pumps?  93!!

  Remember when then Speaker Of The House Nancy Pelosi said we had to pass the Healthcare Bill before we could find out what was in it?  We all got a good laugh.  Unfortunately, it's not funny.  It's true for a lot of legislation.  No one knew when the Endangered Species Act was passed what was in it.  There was nothing about Delta Smelt or pumps.  The law passes, agencies are created and bureaucrats try to figure out how to implement it.  So, when the Delta Smelt is classified as endangered, it is up to the bureaucrats to find a way to protect them.  Thus, we get the formula outlined in the article below determining how much water farmers in the Central Valley will get as a way to protect the Smelt.  You probably don't know exactly how they determine the extent of the damage the pumps are causing the Delta Smelt.  The following article spells it out. 

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The Delta Smelt And Water Supplies - Part One  

Jan 27, 2011

San Francisco Chronicle

Tom Philp, Executive Strategist, Metropolitan Water District

Californians undergo a census once a decade. In the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, there is a fish census of sorts every day, followed by a more comprehensive census every fall. These are no trivial counting exercises. They have a major impact on the availability of water supplies for the Silicon Valley, portions of Alameda County, the Central Valley and Southern California. That is because some fish populations have dramatically decreased, triggering pumping restrictions under the Endangered Species Act for the two water projects serving these regionsthe State Water Project (SWP) and the Central Valley Project (CVP). These restrictions can vary based on the level of rainfall and flow, but they have generally reduced supplies by 25 percent.

For one particular species, the two-inch delta smelt, wildlife agencies use the census information to pinpoint a precise number of adult smelt the projects can "take." Last year the two projects were limited to taking 93 adult delta smelt within the pumping restrictions before reaching a "level of concern" that could have reduced pumping even further. The projects ended up taking 92 adult smelt, based on the official count.

The smelt restrictions were the primary reason for the loss of 1 million acre feet of water supplies last year. Put another way, that is about 326 billion gallons of water. Or enough water to supply every home in the East Bay for seven years. Or every home in San Diego for eight years. Or Los Angeles for more than two years. It is significant loss of supply, which is why these restrictions, and the rationale behind them, are one of those constant debates in the Delta. So for those who want to understand how water is managed in the Delta on a daily basis, it starts with this process of counting fish and coming up with some extraordinarily precise take limits.

At the SWP and CVP facilities in the southern Delta, the fish that find themselves in harm's way go on a similar journey. Before the water reaches the impellers that lift the water into the aqueducts, the flow passes through large sieve-like structures that attempt to safely capture fish. The fish are lifted from the flow, loaded into tanker trucks, transported back to the Delta away from the pumps and released.

This process of "salvaging" goes on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. But another important process countinggoes on as well.

In the course the process, workers (usually) count a fourth of the fish before trucking them away. They identify each fish by species. And they record the information for posterity. The count is multiplied by four to convert this sampling into a complete estimate.

So this is the daily census. The results are readily available on the Web, courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Game. (Note - this salvaging process, and daily counts, do not reflect fish losses due to predation in the waters and forebays near the project facilities.)

The Annual

The Annual "Census:" The Fall Trawl. Fish/Game Photo

Then there is the fall census.

Beginning in 1967, CDFG began looking for a much larger fish, the striped bass, by trawling 12-foot-by-12-foot square nets along the middle of waterways. The mesh nets have openings ranging from a half-inch to eight inches, meaning smaller fish such as the two-inch smelt can slip through. A more effective method of monitoring for adult smelt was launched in 2002 and now takes place every winter and early spring. This more effective monitoring is NOT the basis of the water supply restrictions. Rather, it is the bigger nets of the called "Fall Midwater Trawl" that provides that data used to restrict water supplies under the rationales of longevity (43 years of counting) and its consistency (the same big nets scooping up the catch in the same locations). The trawls take place in four months, September through December. The results create an "abundance index" for fish species such as the delta smelt, which is different than an overall population estimate. The results of the Fall Trawl in 2009 led to limititing the take of adult smelt at the project facilities to 93 fish.

Why 93 as opposed to some other number? That's next.

The Delta Smelt And Water Supplies - Part Two


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