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Every Win Counts!

You could say we've had three wins in three months

Feb 28, 2011


Families Protecting The Valley Newsletter Tell Your Friends about Families Protecting The Valley

FEBRUARY 28 2011

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Board of Directors

Denis Prosperi
Chester Andrew
Bob Smittcamp
Russ Waymire
John "Dusty" Giacone
Joe Marchini
Mark Watte
Kole Upton
Piedad Ayala
Tom Barcellos
Jim Walls

Every Win Counts!

It's been a pretty good couple of months for the farm side in the California water wars.  You could say we've had three wins in three months;

Win #1:  A temporary deal has been struck on Delta pumping restrictions that have been in place to protect the Delta smelt.  As the Fresno Bee article (Farms Could Get More Water In Smelt Deal) put it "The decision between the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, its environmental allies and urban and agricultural water users stems from a December ruling by U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger, who invalidated key parts of a much-debated plan to protect the smelt."  You might remember that in that December ruling Judge Wanger said the pumping restrictions were based on 'sloppy' science.  Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District, said the new pumping levels are 'significantly better.' 

Win #2:  A new agreement requires the Department of Fish and Game to change the size and number of striped bass that fishermen can keep.  In a lawsuit filed by the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta (Settlement Would Ease Rules On Catching Striped Bass) it's alleged that state officials have mismanaged the striper by allowing only a 2-fish, 18" limit.  This has allowed the striper population to grow and contributes to the declining population of endangered species like the smelt and salmon.  It's amazing to us that it would take a lawsuit to mandate this change in light of the fact that so many endangered fish have been killed.  It's long been known that the striped bass is a predatory fish that's as much or more of a threat to the endangered fish than are the pumps. 

Win #3:  The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board's decision to force the Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatmemt Plant to upgrade their system to filter out ammonia and pharmaceuticals (State Water Control Board Approves Sacramento Sewage Clean-Up).  For years farmers have lost water through the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, River Restoration, and Delta pumpiing restrictions because of the biological opinions regarding the smelt and salmon.  Nevertheless, the health of the Delta continues to decline.  Finally, in December something was done about the sewage in the water. 

So, after years of pumping restrictions there are finally some other things being done to help the Delta ecosystem and the health of the endangered species other than pumping restrictions.  We're finally doing something about the sewage and the striped bass. 

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Farms Could Get More Water In Smelt Deal

By John Ellis / The Fresno Bee

West-side farms could get more water this spring after a temporary deal was struck Thursday on Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta pumping restrictions that have been in place to protect the threatened delta smelt.

The deal, which runs through June 30, still allows pumping to be restricted if smelt are in danger of being sucked into the pumps, but the cutbacks wouldn't be as deep as before.

Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District, said the new pumping levels are "significantly better ... I think it is a positive development."

Environmentalists who also signed on to the agreement, however, said the new, less restrictive pumping levels are only an experiment and are not guaranteed, especially if the pumping harms the smelt.

That could potentially lead to more disagreement between the sides.

Still, said Doug Obegi, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, "like all settlements, everybody decided that this was the best course of action."

Others agreed.

Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said in a written statement that the agreement shows that "environmental organizations, state and federal agencies, water contractors and agricultural interests working together have achieved a reasonable resolution."

Trent Orr, an attorney with the environmental group Earthjustice, said it was "a short-term agreement that's good for the health of the delta estuary and good for growers. ... Today's announcement gives all parties more time to work toward long-term, sustainable solutions."

The decision between the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, its environmental allies and urban and agricultural water users stems from a December ruling by U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger, who invalidated key parts of a much-debated plan to protect the smelt.

Water users had challenged the plan, saying it relied on sloppy science and unfairly targeted delta pumping when other delta issues such as pollution and invasive species were hurting the smelt.

Left unanswered was what to do while the Fish & Wildlife Service rewrote the plan, which is known as a "biological opinion." The question was important because restrictions could kick in at any time if smelt are discovered near the pumps.

"We were able to reach this agreement because the Fish & Wildlife Service has recognized that there are potentially some better tools that can be used to protect the [smelt] species while still allowing us to move as much water as we can," Birmingham said.

To date, Obegi said, there has been no need to restrict pumping, thanks to the wet winter that has kept delta water flows high. He also said that the federal portion of the San Luis Reservoir is full, so as of late, there has been no need to pump a lot of water from the delta.

In addition, he said a biological opinion that remains in place to protect endangered salmon and steelhead has helped.

Birmingham, however, said pumping restrictions related to salmon and steelhead are not as restrictive as the one to protect the smelt.

Wanger is scheduled to approve the temporary deal during a hearing today.

Pending Settlement Would Ease State Rules On Catching Striped Bass

Matt Weiser/Sacramento Bee

A legal settlement aims to let Central Valley anglers eat more striped bass, in hopes that stripers will then eat fewer endangered species.

The agreement, awaiting approval by a federal judge, requires the Department of Fish and Game to change the size and number of striped bass that fishermen can keep.

It results from a lawsuit filed in 2008 by the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta.

The striped bass is a nonnative predator that eats endangered species, including endangered smelt and young salmon in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

In the lawsuit, the coalition alleges that state officials have mismanaged the striper by allowing anglers to keep only two at any given time, and none smaller than 18 inches long.

As a result, the striper population has been allowed to grow, contributing to steep population declines in several species native to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The settlement requires Fish and Game to change the limits on size and number governing striper fishing. It does not say how those limits must change. But the end result will likely be more lenient rules.

"All indications are that if you reduce predation (by striped bass) the endangered species should benefit substantially," said Michael Boccadoro, spokesman for the coalition. "We think it's a great settlement to begin to address the issue."

Fish and Game officials did not respond to a request for comment. The settlement is to be heard by U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger in Fresno on March 17.

The state does not admit fault in the settlement.

The lawsuit has been controversial because the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta consists of large San Joaquin Valley farm irrigation districts – primarily in Kern County – which depend on water diverted from the Delta to grow crops. Critics say those irrigators merely want to divert attention from the water diversions, which also kill endangered species.

The coalition, however, has maintained it wants to change other aspects of Delta management that have received relatively little attention from regulators.

The case has also divided anglers. The striper is a prized sportfish and supports a significant share of the region's recreational fishing industry, especially in recent years when salmon fishing was halted to protect the species.

Some fishermen note stripers have long existed in harmony with other species, and the population has waxed and waned with them as well.

Brandon Beachum, owner of Champion Sportfishing Outfitters, a West Sacramento guide service, does not support reducing the size limit on stripers, but said anglers should be allowed to take more of them.

"The stripers annihilate salmon," said Beachum. "But if we didn't have stripers during the salmon closure, I would have been absolutely out of business."

Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, warned that if stripers decline, other predators that may be worse for salmon and smelt will fill that gap.

Jennings' group is an intervenor in the lawsuit on behalf of Fish and Game and does not support the settlement.

The agreement sets a timetable for Fish and Game to submit new rules to the state Fish and Game Commission, which is ultimately responsible for changing the rules.

The department will also be required to set aside $1 million to research predation by invasive species. This research does not have to be completed before new fishing regulations are enacted.


Sewage Plant Upgrade Ordered

Dec 10, 2010

Sacramento Bee


A strict new sewage discharge permit was approved late Thursday that local officials have warned could triple sewage treatment bills for 500,000 ratepayers in the Sacramento metro area.

The action came at 10:45 p.m. after a 12-hour meeting in Rancho Cordova.

"No doubt it's going to cost a lot of money, but the Delta is worth it," said Pamela Creedon, executive officer of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, which adopted the rules by unanimous vote.

Stan Dean, district engineer of the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District, said appealing to the State Water Resources Control Board "is a very strong possibility."

It was Sacramento against the state during the meeting, at which about 300 people assembled to debate whether the capital should do a better job of treating its sewage.

Wastewater from the region's 1.3 million people is suspected of disrupting the ecology of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Because the Delta supplies drinking water for 25 million people, the meeting drew politicians and water agency officials from throughout the state.

The meeting continued into the night as competing parties debated obscure but important technical issues governing the proposed permit.

The meeting's morning session was dominated by competing dramatic claims by the participants, from Sacramentans who fear economic harm, to Southern Californians worried about their water supply.

"It is a war between North and South," Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson told the water board, in the day's first dramatic flourish.

State Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Hemet, who represents Riverside County, countered that the Sacramento region can't ignore its environmental impact on the Delta.

"This isn't a North and South issue. This is a state issue," he said. "The Sacramento region needs to do its share."

The Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District discharges the region's wastewater into the Sacramento River at Freeport.

It must obtain a new discharge permit every five years under the federal Clean Water Act. The current permit dates to 2000, because the highly technical and controversial nature of the issue has caused delays.

The new permit would drastically reduce discharge limits for a number of pollutants. The central issues involve ammonia and cryptosporidium, an infectious pathogen.

Much of the argument Thursday centered on the cost of compliance. Sacramento officials have estimated that current sewage bills for a half-million customers would have to triple – to $60 a month – to pay for treatment plant improvements.

"Now is not the time," said Elk Grove resident Ted Benjamin. "Maybe it's right. But I cannot afford it."

Central Valley water board staff summarized years of evidence gathered on Sacramento's wastewater. The debate came down to three issues: ammonia, pathogens and oxygen depletion in the Delta's waters.

Recent studies have found problems in all three areas.

Ammonia in the region's effluent, for instance, is interfering with the reproduction of copepods, tiny phytoplankton at the base of the food chain. It also may have long-term health effects on the endangered Delta smelt.

Sacramento's sewage puts 14 tons of ammonia into the Delta every day, 99 percent of the total, according to the board's research. It's enough to cause toxic effects on test organisms all the way downstream to Rio Vista, about 30 miles away.

Water board staff also presented research, by University of Arizona assistant professor of biology Charles Gerba, that swimmers downstream from Sacramento's sewer outfall are twice as likely to get sick as those upstream.

"We are required to protect the ecosystem, and we know there are impacts now," said Ken Landau, assistant executive officer of the Central Valley water board. "I cannot emphasize too strongly, the science behind this is sound."

Numerous other officials support those conclusions and the proposed pollution limits, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Department of Public Health.

The evidence, however, was disputed by a platoon of consultants hired by the Sacramento sanitation district. Some of the most persuasive testimony came from the district's expert on biology, who said there's no evidence the decline in copepods actually affects fish or the ecosystem.


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