U.S. Water News Online
SACRAMENTO -- With various Delta fish species on the road
to recovery, a coalition of water stakeholders has outlined a
cost-effective program that will continue progress toward the
species' recovery while limiting repeated and unpredictable economic
impacts to the state due to water shortages and reduced water
The new approach focuses on accelerating investments in habitat
restoration, s trategic restrictions on Delta pumping, and creation
of a high-level public policy group to review the biological science
that guides Delta decision-making.
"With California's growing population, water supplies are tight,"
said Steve Hall, executive director of the Association of California
Water Agencies. "We support sufficient flows for fish, but water must
be used in a fully accountable and beneficial manner, whether in
cities, on the farm, or for the environment."
With that goal in mind, water users released Science and the
Bay-Delta: A Common-Sense, Science-Based Approach to Balanced
Resource Management. The 32-page briefing book analyzes
biological trends in the Bay-Delta and recent decision-making
processes that have put water supplies at risk for uncertain
After five wet years and more than 450 different habitat
improvement projects throughout the Bay/Delta watershed, populations
of fish species of concern -- winter-run and spring-run Chinook
salmon, Sacramento splittail and Delta smelt -- have stabilized or
rebounded. In addition, fish are protected by a "safety net" of an
additional 1.4 million acre-feet of water when dry weather returns.
"More than $2 billion is committed to ecosystem restoration in the
Bay/Delta and we are already seeing the benefits of those
investments," noted Tim Quinn, deputy general manager of the
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. "It's time to
recognize that we don't have to operate in a crisis mode for the
fish, and that we need to balance environmental concerns with the
water supply and water quality needs of Californians."
Too often, the report notes, drastic regulatory actions are taken
that provide only token benefits to fish but create major impacts on
water supply and water quality. Last December, for example, a key
water quality control structure in the Delta was closed to protect
spring-run salmon. Relatively few fish were actually at risk, but the
action created the worst Delta water quality since 1977 and reduced
water supplies by 300,000 acre-feet.
In some instances, it can cost more than a half-million acre feet
of water valued at $50 million to achieve just a one percent increase
in salmon populations.
The report does not dismiss the need to restrict Delta pumping
operations to protect fish. In fact, Delta smelt seem to be the most
vulnerable to pumping and restrictions are necessary when large
numbers of them are within the range of the south Delta pumping
However, salmon are at relatively little risk from pumping and
benefit most from the extensive investments in habitat restoration
that have occurred over the past several years.
"No one can pretend to have a full understanding of the biological
factors that contribute to the success of Delta species," Hall noted.
"But, with the fisheries recovering, we have an opportunity to look
at the entire ecosystem and pursue the scientifically based ecosystem
measures that will benefit fish while protecting the economy.
"Cutting back the pumps, which supply drinking water to two-thirds
of the state and fuels our economy, should not be an automatic
reflex," Hall added.
In contrast to a variety of actions taken without sufficient
scientific justification, the report also highlights a number of
scientifically justified actions that could provide substantial
environmental benefit, but have languished due to other constraints.
"Balancing environmental actions in the Delta with their economic
impacts makes for sound public policy," Hall said. "By broadening the
mix of ecosystem recovery investments and agreeing on principles to
minimize the water supply impacts, policymakers can move the state in
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