Plan to hike water delivery to farms ripped Speakers say fish harmed if more water goes south

by Dave Waddell

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation came to Chico State to get public reaction to its vague new proposal to “maximize” water deliveries from the north to San Joaquin Valley farmers. The reviews from most of the two dozen or so people speaking Thursday were overwhelmingly and passionately against the notion, as well as frequently distrustful of the federal agency.

photo by Dave Waddell

Rick Switzer

“How much harder can you twist the sponge that is already quite dry?” asked Rick Switzer. “Someone should carry the message to them that we’re all out. … Water is finite. You people do not seem to be familiar with the concept.”

The Bureau of Reclamation is taking public comments through “the close of business” Feb. 1 on the proposal to hike water deliveries to agricultural operations on the San Joaquin’s west side, while “optimizing” power production along the way. More information on submitting written comments may be obtained from the bureau’s Katrina Harrison at 916-414-2425 or at

The Bureau of Reclamation set Thursday’s hearing after receiving “multiple requests” to do so, said Federico Barajas, deputy regional director for the bureau’s Mid-Pacific Region. Among the requesters was the water advocacy nonprofit AquAlliance.

Barajas described the water delivery proposal as in the “infancy stages” of the environmental review process. “This is not the California water fix,” Barajas said. “This is not the (twin) tunnels.”

Harrison, who’s managing the project for the bureau, told the meeting that various regulatory actions have reduced the availability of water for delivery south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. She acknowledged critics’ frustration with how broadly the project has been framed, saying “we don’t have specific numbers.”

photo by Dave Waddell

Caleen Sisk

After Caleen Sisk, chief of the Winnemem Wintu tribe, began asking questions about the project, the BR’s Barajas took the microphone and said the proposed revisions are designed to give the bureau “greater flexibility” in managing the Central Valley Project’s water.

In response, the next speaker, Barbara Vlamis of AquAlliance, said of the proposal’s description: “You just heard the nebulous nature of whatever we’re commenting on.”

Later, speaker Chris Nelson also seemed to reference Barajas’ “greater flexibility” comment, calling it “crook speech.”

Another of the evening’s impassioned speakers was fishing guide Robert Dunn of the Northern California Guides and Sportsmen’s Association, which he said opposes sending more water south to irrigate orchards of nut trees. Dunn ripped the Bureau of Reclamation’s relationship with the Fresno-based Westlands Water District, which has “you guys in their pocket.”

photo by Dave Waddell

Robert Dunn

“Our environment is collapsing due to the over-delivery of our water,” Dunn said. “They’re selling the food overseas; they’re not feeding America.”

The declining fishery – both salmon and the Delta smelt – was a frequent theme of speakers, including Chief Sisk, whose tribal lands are on Shasta Lake and its McCloud River tributary. She said the Winnemem Wintu are threatened by discussions of raising Shasta Dam.

“We are salmon people,” Sisk said. “We need to be on the endangered species list, my tribe.”

James Dunlap, a former Yurok chairman, said that prior to the Central Valley Project’s dams and reservoirs, Klamath River salmon ran in the millions. This year, he said, there were just “600 fish for a 6,000-member tribe.”

Dunlap called on the bureau to invest in de-salination efforts and to stop the theft of project water by illegal marijuana grows.

Rain Scher advised the bureau “to listen to the voices of the first people here because they know what they’re talking about.”

Bruce Smith referenced last year’s near Oroville Dam failure and told the bureau to focus on fixing the water system’s infrastructure. “You’ve ignored it,” Smith said. “It’s going to take you out.”

Drawing the wrath of several speakers was the fact that not a single elected official from the north state – federal, state or local – was in attendance at Thursday’s hearing.

“I too am alarmed that we don’t have our representatives here,” said Debra Lucero, who is running for the District 2 seat on the Butte County Board of Supervisors held by Larry Wahl. “We need our voices to be heard.”

Scott Huber, a candidate for Chico City Council, criticized the practice of growing water-thirsty almonds in a “dust bowl.”

“The folks in this room are unwilling to give up salmon and smelt so farmers in the southern San Joaquin can profit,” Huber said.

Lucas RossMerz of the Sacramento River Preservation Trust called the declining salmon a “keynote species” in the north state’s ecosystem.

“We don’t have any more environment to take from,” RossMerz said. “When does the agricultural side of this conversation have to give something back? … Fish first! Farms can go second for once.”

Dave Waddell is news director at ChicoSol

1 thought on “Plan to hike water delivery to farms ripped Speakers say fish harmed if more water goes south

  1. Here are my comments on the proposed modifications to the continued long term operation of the federal Central Valley Project in a coordinated manner with the State Water Project to evaluate alternatives that maximize water deliveries.

    The EIS must address the consequence of declining aquifer levels to Sacramento Valley water districts’ conjunctive use of surface and groundwater.
    While conjunctive use (CWU) may prove successful for an individual or group of water users to manage an immediate situation, it is also possible for conjunctive use to unintentionally harm the groundwater basin and other groundwater users who are not involved in conjunctive use but are reliant on the same groundwater basin.
    Historic independent groundwater pumpers may be economically injured by declining aquifer levels.
    If CWU is included in any of the project alternatives the EIS must identify areas where groundwater dependent ecosystems (GDE) may be impacted by CWU. In order to identify potential habitat impacts associated with potential changes in water management practices, a program-specific network of shallow monitor monitoring wells should be developed to detect changes in water levels over the shallowest portion of the aquifer. In evaluating impacts to certain GDE species, it is important to discern both the rate of groundwater level change, as well as the cumulative change over the entire year. Data collection and monitoring frequency should be appropriately selected to support the temporal and long-term evaluations.

    Any alternative that examines stressors to the fishery such as toxic runoff, waste treatment plant effluent and non-native species must include analysis of flow volume dilution, flow related turbidity on predation and flow related distribution of special status species vulnerability to predation and localized catastrophes. The attempt to attribute the fishery declines to “non-flow” stressors and to identify, but not fund, habitat restoration while prioritizing “Maximize water supply delivery” is an obvious attempt to place water supply for consumptive use over the “co-equal” goal of protecting, restoring, and enhancing the ecosystems that are the source of the water.

    The EIS must contain an alternative that honors California Water Code Section 85021 that requires all regions of California reduce their dependence on water imported from the Delta.

    The EIS must analyze how the inflow of fresh water drives the health of the San Francisco Bay Estuary and its watershed, from mountain forested watersheds to the Pacific Ocean outside the Golden Gate. The EIS must consider how water diversions create artificial “supercritically dry” years in the estuary. This analysis must consider how these dry years shifts the size and location of the ecologically important salinity mixing zone, how water diversions also divert the inflow of nutrients, food and sediment from the watershed that are vital components of fish and wildlife habitat, how decreased flows prevent periodic flushing and allows pollutants to linger and how reduced flow facilitates invasions by undesirable non-native species.

    The EIS must analyze how the dams and diversions have prevented sediment from flowing into the Bay Estuary resulting in a large decreases in sandy beaches in the Bay in corresponding increase in coastal erosion. The EIS must consider the role of sediment transport as a means of dealing with rising sea levels. Marsh formation is a critical tool in dealing with rising sea levels. The EIS must examine the role of how freshwater flow regimes in the estuary facilitates the preservation and growth of freshwater marshes in response to rising sea levels. Organic matter accumulates faster in freshwater marshes than it does in saltwater marshes. Wetlands and beaches act as natural flood barriers to protect shoreline communities in the Bay Area.

    The EIR must consider alternatives that enhance habitat conditions that once prevailed in the Sacramento/San Joaquin watershed that made the San Francisco Bay a hub of commercial and recreational fishing activity on the West Coast, with important fisheries for salmon, sturgeon, smelt, striped bass and other species. The long-term trend of reducing Bay inflows has been a major factor in the loss of thousands of fishing jobs over the past few decades. Dwindling salmon runs threaten the local Orca whale population.
    The EIS must provide alternatives that disallow the degradation of water quality causing periodic harmful algae blooms (cyanobacteria) that produce neurotoxins powerful enough to make humans sick and kill small animals.

    The EIR must present an alternative that reduces fish mortality related to the “salvage operations” near the Delta pumps. The existing low inflows shift fish habitat forcing imperiled fish to approach the giant pumps where on average 9 million fish are screen out of the exported water every year. Most do not survive the ordeal.

    The EIR must present alternatives that do not rely on Temporary Urgency Change Petitions. The Projects’ joint operations in 2014 and 2015 operated outside state and federal laws as presented in the Temporary Urgency Change Petitions sought by the Agencies. Fish were decimated while the Bureau and the Department of Water Resources (DWR”) (“Agencies”) operated outside water quality and flow requirements with the approval of the State Water Resources Control Board (“SWRCB”).
    The EIR must evaluate the overallocation of real water in the Central Valley. Essential information needed would include the response to inquiries from the Governor’s Delta Vision Task Force where the SWRCB acknowledged that while average runoff in the Delta watershed between 1921 and 2003 was 29 million acre-feet annually, the 6,300 active water right permits issued by the SWRCB is approximately 245 million acre-feet By this analysis, water rights on paper are 8.4 times greater than the real water in California’s Central Valley rivers and streams diverted to supply those rights on an average annual basis. And the SWRCB acknowledges that this ‘water bubble’ does not even take account of the higher priority rights to divert held by pre-1914 appropriators and riparian water right holders.
    The EIR must evaluate a conservation alternative that would focus on reduction of water demand by agricultural and urban conservation.
    The EIR must evaluate the impacts to indigenous people who have been deprived of their abundant supply of numerous salmon runs disrupted by CVP/SWP infrastructure. The EIR must examine an alternative that facilitates the return of spawning salmon in the McCloud River. The EIS must consider the cultural ramifications of raising of the Shasta Dam. There are culturally sensitive sites that will be flooded if the dam is raised. These places are the last remaining sacred sites of the Winnemem Wintu people.
    The EIS must evaluate alternatives that include Sierra/Cascade watershed management that rehabilitates mountain meadow restoration and restores wildfire into the fire evolved ecosystem. Degraded mountain meadows release runoff while healthy meadows holds and slowly releases water in storage. Natural fire regimes restore forest structure that reduces small diameter ladder fuel and enhances precipitation percolation.

    What environmental and regulatory requirement modifications mentioned in the notice are on the table?
    Are the plans for “sharing of water and responsibilities in the Delta” going to force North State irrigation districts to increase groundwater extractions?
    Do the “Actions that increase storage capacity upstream of the Delta for the CVP” include raising Shasta Dam, building Sites Reservoir or developing Sacramento Valley groundwater banks?
    Do the “Actions that increase storage capacity south of the Delta” include replenishing San Joaquin Valley groundwater banks with water imported from the Sacramento Valley?
    Do the “Actions that increase export capabilities through the Delta” include any variation of the twin tunnels project?
    Why did the DOI originally decide to hold public scoping meetings in the SLDMWA office and in the Capitol but not in the area of origin of the water?

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