In the Middle of a ‘Drought’ Gov Moonbeam releases more Water to the Sea | July 2016

Governor’s Delta smelt plan calls for more water flowing to sea to save extinct fish

– SacBee

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“For the first time in years, Northern California’s rivers are roaring and its reservoirs are filled almost to the brim. So why isn’t more water being pumped to Southern California? The answer involves the ravaged status of three key fish species.

With Delta smelt numbers at all-time lows, state officials on Tuesday released a list of more than a dozen projects they’re hoping to undertake in the next few years in a last-ditch effort to stave off the fish’s extinction.

One of those plans is sure to be contentious. The “Delta Smelt Resiliency Strategy” released Tuesday by the California Natural Resources Agency calls for allowing between 85,000 and 200,000 acre-feet of extra water to wash out to sea this summer to bolster smelt habitat.

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That’s no small amount: 200,000 acre-feet is equal to a quarter of Folsom Lake’s capacity, though not all the amount released would come from Folsom.

Federal dam operators say the state’s plans are a tad too ambitious.

“I would call that part a little bit strongly worded,” U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Shane Hunt said Monday after reviewing the state’s proposal. “We’re fairly confident we’ll get some water, but I don’t think we’ll get anywhere close to the top end of this range that’s in this document.”

The document calls for “a variety of methods” to achieve such large outflows, including buying water from willing sellers, changing how water is exported from the Delta or releasing water stored behind Central Valley dams. The plan also calls for 250,000 acre-feet to be released to the Pacific Ocean next summer.

Agricultural groups in the San Joaquin Valley have fretted for weeks about the first-ever summertime outflows to protect the smelt.

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Last month, 15 members of Congress from California sent a letter urging the Obama administration to reject such a plan out of concern it would lead to Delta pumping restrictions that would “significantly reduce the water supply available to Californians.”

Hunt said his agency has no plans to cut water deliveries for now. Instead, he said his agency is working to buy water from contractors and perhaps to secure water stored for hydroelectricity. Mark Cowin, director of the state Department of Water Resources, said his agency also has no plans to purchase water or to cut deliveries to contractors in order to bolster this summer’s flows to benefit the smelt.”

….Continue reading @ SacBee

 

More on the Delta Smelt:

California drought: Delta smelt survey finds a single fish, heightening debate over water supply

– San Jose Mercury News

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BYRON — There’s only one place left on Earth where imperiled Delta smelt are thriving, where their water remains cold and clean.

In the wild, the fish is on the brink of extinction. This month, in their April trawl survey, state Fish and Wildlife scientists caught only one of the pinky-sized, politicized fish with an outsized role in California’s water wars, an alarming indication of just how few smelt are left. And the drought may inflict the final blow.
But here in this UC Davis-run hatchery, large tanks are filled with thousands of baby smelt — where, for now, they’ll stay, generation after generation — because the Delta’s warm, brackish and polluted water is too inhospitable.
The fate of this fish — wild or forever captive — throws into question the future of one of the world’s most contentious plumbing systems: the 700,000-acre Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the nexus of water moving from the state’s north to south.

In the fourth year of a historic drought, biologists are issuing desperate pleas to devote Delta water for those few wild creatures that remain — not just Delta smelt, but also longfin smelt, Sacramento splittail, Sacramento perch, river lamprey, green sturgeon, Central Valley steelhead trout and spring and winter runs of chinook salmon. It’s not just about saving a single species, they say, but about saving a precious ecosystem.

But farmers say it’s time to concede the fish is a lost cause — and to supply more of the Delta’s water to help humans.
Amid the crisis, there’s this question: Do these cultured captive fish represent a new beginning in the wild, or an experiment in futility? The future of the Delta smelt — and its impact on California’s water supply — is the latest installment of this newspaper’s series “A State of Drought.”
The fish itself is unremarkable — short-lived, tiny and so translucent it’s almost invisible. It lacks the charisma of a bald eagle, grizzly bear or bison. Until now, it’s been durable, surviving millions of years through droughts far worse than this one. It was once the most abundant fish in the Delta.

This countdown toward extinction represents the failure of what was once the largest estuary between Patagonia and Alaska.

“The policy of the people of United States is not to let any species go extinct,” said fish biologist Peter Moyle, associate director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis.

“But the situation is pretty grim,” he said. “And if it’s unfavorable for the smelt, it’s probably unfavorable for other species, as well.”

The fish exerts such force on the Delta’s waters that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulates how and when pumping can be done to protect it and other imperiled endangered species. Since the smelt is protected under the Endangered Species Act, a federal court order can — and has — reduced pumping to farmers and cities in Southern California. Yet this protection hasn’t been enough for a species that lives in the pipeline of California’s critical hydraulic system.”

…Continue reading @ Mercury-News