[env-trinity] Judge Wanger Rules Against Delta Pumps

Tom Stokely tstokely at trinityalps.net
Tue Sep 4 14:38:47 PDT 2007


The news below is of such significance that I am forwarding all of the news clippings available on this topic.

Tom Stokely


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

From: Dan Bacher [mailto:danielbacher at fishsniffer.com] 
Sent: Sunday, September 02, 2007 6:28 PM
Subject: Judge Orders State and Federal Governments to Reduce Pumping to Protect Delta Smelt 

 

U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger on Friday ruled to restrict water deliveries from the California Deltas massive export pumps to the Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California to protect the threatened delta smelt, an indicator species.
 

Judge Orders State And Federal Governments to Reduce Pumping to Protect Delta Smelt

 

By Dan Bacher

 

(Fresno) In a landmark decision, a federal judge on August 31 ordered state and federal water project managers to reduce the amount of water pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to protect the threatened delta smelt from extinction.

 

Environmentalists generally praised the ruling, even though the decision didnt go as far as they wanted, while Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and water agency representatives claimed the decision would devastate Californias water supplies and the economy.

 

U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger ruled to restrict water deliveries from the California Deltas massive export pumps to the Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California to protect the fish. The Delta smelt is found only in the Bay-Delta estuary and is considered by scientists to be an indicator species demonstrating the health of the West Coasts largest estuary.

 

Wanger, after hearing testimony from the defendants that other factors such as invasive species and toxics resulted in the collapse of the imperiled fish, said the pumps cause reverse flows in the Delta that kill smelt and damage vital habitat.

 

"The evidence is uncontradicted that these project operations move the fish. It happens and the law says something has to be done about it, said Wanger.

 

The ruling will reduce pumping from the end of the December, when the fish are ready to spawn, until June, when the fish can move out of harms way from the pumps into Suisun Bay.

 

Thousands of smelt were killed in the state and federal pumps this May and June, in spite of a nine day reduction in pumping spurred by a court order issued by Alameda Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch in a separate lawsuit filed by the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

 

Kate Poole, Senior Attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said that Wangers ruling appears to improve the smelt's chances of survival. NRDC, Earthjustice and two other environmental groups launched their lawsuit to prevent the smelts extinction at time when the fish has declined to record low levels.

 

The question is whether it's enough to save the smelt from extinction, she stated. That's what's needed to protect the delta and clean drinking water, and it's what's required under the federal Endangered Species Act.

 

"The San Francisco Bay Delta can't perform its vital job of supplying clean water for people, if it's so sick that it can't even support the tiny delta smelt. Millions of Californians depend on the delta to supply clean drinking water, irrigate crops and support salmon and other fishing jobs, said Poole.

 

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger described the federal court ruling as devastating blow to our water supply system and state economy.

 

Today's federal court ruling to drastically cut Delta water exports is further proof that our water system is broken, unreliable and in crisis, Schwarzenegger contended. We must act now to ensure the safety and reliability of California's water system while we work to protect the environment. This decision is also going to have a devastating impact on the state's economy and the 25 million Californians who depend on Delta water.

 

Schwarzenegger used the judges decision as another chance to promote his campaign to build a peripheral canal code-worded as a better conveyance system and more water storage behind two proposed reservoirs in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys.

 

We need to invest in a better conveyance system so we have reliable water supplies and are able to protect the Delta's fragile ecosystem, said Schwarzenegger. Following today's ruling, there can be no doubt, we need more water storage and greater conservation efforts to meet the needs of our growing population, respond to the challenge climate change presents and meet the requirements of what the court has imposed.

 

Jeff Kightlinger, General Manager of the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), criticized the ruling for not addressing other factors in the Delta smelts decline.

 

"Judge Wanger's decision to cut back water supplies doesn't address various other Delta problems and issues, Kightlinger said. Invasive species will continue to deplete food supplies for Delta smelt, pesticide runoff that can harm the estuary will persist, and the levee system will remain vulnerable to earthquakes and rising sea levels caused by climate change.

 

MWD, the primary water importer for urban Southern California, claimed it stands to lose as much as 30 percent of its supplies from Northern California next year and possibly longer, based on initial estimates supplied by the state.

 

"California simply cannot lose important water supplies without real consequences throughout the state," said Kightlinger. This historic court decision affirms what the water community has realized for some time, but the general public may not fully appreciate--the Delta, both as a valuable ecosystem and essential water supply, is broken. This court ruling did not fix it.

 

However, Poole noted that it too early to determine exactly how much water would be taken out of water supplies to protect the smelt and she emphasized that the Delta can be managed to both protect fish and supply water to cities and agriculture by increased water conservation.

 

"We can manage the San Francisco Bay Delta to protect fisheries and supply clean, reliable water to downstream users, she stated. The key is to use water wisely. Through conservation, wastewater recycling and better use of groundwater, we can keep enough fresh water in the delta to ensure clean water and healthy fisheries. Water managers have been planning for this for years."

 

The judge gave both parties 50 days to jointly come up with an order after giving an outline of what he wanted. Wanger earlier this year tossed out a key U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion regarding Delta water management and ordered the agency to rewrite the opinion. The August 31 ruling will be in effect only until the agency finishes rewriting the opinion.

 

Fishing groups also welcomed the decision, although they werent sure exactly how much the decision would reduce pumping levels and protect the smelt.

 

Nobody really knows the full ramifications of the decision yet, said Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. Im also concerned that the ruling doesnt protect the delta smelt during the fall. However, the fact that a conservative federal judge had to compel the reduction of state and federal pumps to protect the smelt is a searing indictment of the state and federal governments' failure to protect the estuary.

 

In response to Schwarzenegger's dire prediction of disaster resulting from the ruling, Jennings replied that the Governor could protect the water supplies of 99.9 percent of Californias urban and agricultural users if water-intensive cotton crops in the San Joaquin Valley were taken out of production. California's cotton production approximates 1.5 million bales annually from approximately 550,000 acres, representing the 2nd largest planted acreage of any crop in the state.

 

Jennings also said Wangers decision should help strengthen the alliances current litigation against the Department of Water Resources and State Water Resources Control Board.

 

Its clear that if the Delta is to be saved, given the political paralysis of the Schwarzenegger and Bush administrations, it will be saved in court, he said. Hopefully, the Wanger ruling will make a difference.

 

The decision occurs in the context of an alarming decline in recent years of four California Delta pelagic (open water) species, including delta smelt, longfin smelt, striped bass and threadfin shad, as the state and federal governments have increased water exports by over 1,000,000 acre feet of water per year.

 

On August 8, the Bay Institute, Center for Biological Diversity and NRDC simultaneously asked the federal government to list the Bay-Delta population of longfin smelt under the federal Endangered Species Act and the California Fish and Game Commission to list the species statewide under the California Endangered Species Act.



Department of Water Resources

California Water News

A daily compilation for DWR personnel of significant news articles and comment

 

September 4, 2007

 

1.  Top Item - 

 

Ruling to protect delta smelt may force water rationing in Bay Area -

San Francisco Chronicle

 

Judge limits Delta pumps
Effort to save fish will hurt farmers and others, the state says. -
Sacramento Bee

 

Court ruling on delta alarms water officials -

San Jose Mercury News

 

Ruling to cut into water flow to region

Judge's order will protect fish, but cause shortages -

San Diego Union Tribune

 

Smelt ruling may cut into water supply

Official says the decision in an environmental suit could force a one-third reduction in shipments from the delta to the Southland. -

Los Angeles Times

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Judge imposes water limits to protect Delta fish -
Sacramento Bee

 

Judge: Cut water to help endangered fish

Delta fish near extinction -

Oakland Tribune

 

Ruling to protect delta smelt may force water rationing in Bay Area

San Francisco Chronicle - 9/1/07

By Peter Fimrite, Staff Writer

 

Cities around the Bay Area face the possibility of mandatory water rationing next year as a result of a federal court decision Friday to protect a rare fish found only in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, state officials and water experts said.

 

The decision, which could cut by up to a third the amount of water drawn from the delta, will definitely force conservation measures and, in the end, could be the most far-reaching decision ever made under endangered species laws, according to experts. 

 

The ruling, made Friday evening by U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger, was an attempt to help the delta smelt, a tiny fish once plentiful but now facing extinction. Environmentalists insist the huge Tracy-area pumps used by the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project suck up smelt, killing huge numbers of them. Those water systems redistribute delta water to parts of the Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

 

"This is the most drastic cut ever to California water supplies," said Tim Quinn, the executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, a lobbying group that represents more than 400 agencies that deliver 90 percent of the state's water. "It is the most significant decision ever made in the implementation of either the state or federal Endangered Species Act. It's the biggest impact anywhere, nationwide."

 

Water agency representatives said cropland is likely to go fallow, and cities in the Tri-Valley, Santa Clara County, Los Angeles and elsewhere could have to institute mandatory rationing programs in order to deal with the cuts in water. 

 

Agencies that rely on delta water - such as the Zone 7 Water Agency that serves Livermore, Pleasanton and Dublin - also will have to rely on water reserves, threatening efforts to deal with severe droughts or disasters like earthquakes.

 

The court case, which started Aug. 21 in Fresno, was an attempt to establish temporary guidelines for the protection of the 2- to 3-inch-long, silver-colored fish, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Once plentiful in the delta, the fish have been dying in large numbers over the past few years. The pumps are blamed, as is pollution from farms and cities and other factors.

 

The environmentalists, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, were pitted against state and federal water brokers and their contractors. At stake was not only a rare species of fish uniquely adapted to the delta's shifting currents and brackish water but also the drinking water for 25 million Californians and irrigation for 750,000 acres of cropland. 

 

The ruling came after more than a week of expert testimony. In his decision issued from the bench, Wanger did not prohibit pumping. Instead, he required state and federal water officials to maintain sufficient water flow by reducing pumping or releasing more water upstream to prevent the smelt from being sucked into the pumps.

 

The complicated ruling set water flow targets from late December through June, the primary spawning season when young smelt are in particular danger of being sucked into the pumps. It could mean up to 35 percent less water for the state, according to officials from the state Department of Water Resources.

The decision is meant to be effective for about a year, after which federal wildlife officials are expected to issue their own decision on how to protect the smelt. But experts said there is no reason to expect that decision will free up more water.

 

Some environmentalists said it didn't go quite far enough.

 

"It's not as protective as we would have liked, but we're pleased that the government will be taking some measures to protect the smelt," said Kate Poole, one of the lawyers for the National Resources Defense Council. "It's a step in the right direction to restoring the delta. It's not clear whether this will protect the smelt and prevent its extinction."

 

Jerry Johns, the deputy director of the Department of Water Resources, said the ruling might not have been as severe as environmentalists wanted, but it was harsh. Selling water around the state will be more difficult now that the delta pumps can't work as hard, he said.

 

"The ability to move water across the market is greatly limited here because the delta can't perform," he said.

 

The water fight started in 2005 when environmentalists sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after the agency issued an opinion saying that the federal and state water projects would not jeopardize the delta smelt. 

 

The plaintiffs said the pumping plants were primarily responsible for a drastic decline in the number of smelt in the delta.

 

In May, Wanger ruled against federal authorities, essentially ordering the government to establish new guidelines to protect the fish. The state Department of Water Resources and the Fish and Wildlife Service now are attempting to come up with a new "biological opinion" - a conclusion about the impact the jointly operated water projects have on the fish species.

 

Such biological opinions are required under the Endangered Species Act. The latest hearing was to determine what measures should be taken to protect the fish until that opinion is completed in about a year. 

 

The fact that the delta smelt is unique to the delta's vast network of channels, islands and marshes makes it a crucial gauge of the ecological health of the region. The species adapted over the eons to the brackish water, varying currents from converging rivers and flooding that has historically inundated the valley. 

Smelt swim only in bursts to get to locations where they can drift with the currents and feed, according to experts. They live for about a year, spawn and their larvae then drift down to Suisun Bay, where they grow and repeat the cycle. 

 

Over the past four or five years, experts have noticed a precipitous drop in the number and range of the smelt, historically the most common fish in the delta. 

Peter Moyle, a professor of fisheries at UC Davis, and Tina Swanson, the senior scientist at The Bay Institute, testified during the hearing that the smelt appear to get confused in the south delta because the pumps actually change the direction of the current. 

 

Moyle believes the delta smelt is on the verge of extinction. The fish is particularly vulnerable now, he said, because it is concentrated mostly in one area where a toxic spill or disaster of some sort could wipe them all out.

 

Lawyers for the state and federal governments and water contractors argued that the pumps are only a minor part of the problem and that other factors - like nonnative predatory species, toxic runoff, wastewater dumping and unregulated pumping from farmers - are the major culprits. They wanted the other issues studied and addressed before limits on pumping were put in place. 

 

Environmentalists contend a limited water supply might impress upon the farmers the realities of global warming, thereby forcing them to grow more sustainable crops and install more efficient irrigation systems.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/09/01/MNPCRT83Q.DTL

 

Judge limits Delta pumps
Effort to save fish will hurt farmers and others, the state says.
Sacramento Bee - 9/1/07
By John Ellis - Fresno Bee
 
A federal judge on Friday ordered less water to be pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to protect the threatened Delta smelt, a decision state water officials said will hurt San Joaquin Valley farmers and Southern California residents alike.

 

State Water Contractors, an organization representing more than two dozen agencies that buy water from the state, called the decision by U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger in Fresno the largest court-ordered water supply reduction in California history.

 

"This may be the biggest impact anywhere, California or nationwide," said Terry Erlewine, the organization's general manager. 

 

In an average year -- when close to 6 million acre-feet of water is sent south from the Delta -- the giant pumps serving both the state and federal water projects could deliver up to 35 percent less water under the federal order, said Jerry Johns, deputy director of the state Department of Water Resources.

At issue are the giant pumping stations that are key to the state and federal water systems, devices that environmentalists say have driven the smelt to the brink of extinction.

 

"The evidence is uncontradicted that these project operations move the fish," Wanger said after hearing objections from defendants, who had argued that other factors led to the fish's decline.

 

"It happens, and the law says something has to be done about it."

 

Under the ruling, limits would be put in place from the end of December, when the fish are about to spawn, until June, when young fish can move into better habitat with more food.

 

Wanger also prescribed other measures, such as increased monitoring of the fish's presence in its adult and juvenile stages at several points in the Delta.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a written statement that the ruling would have "a devastating impact on the state's economy and the 25 million Californians who depend on Delta water."

 

The full impact of the ruling remained unknown. People on both sides of the issue are working to grasp the details of Wanger's decision, which was delivered to a courtroom so packed that spectators were seated in the courtroom's jury box.

 

Environmentalists, while pleased with the decision, were quick to point out that they didn't get everything they wanted.

 

"It's kind of a mixed bag, but it's better than what we have now," said Trent Orr, an attorney with Earthjustice who is involved in the case.

Environmentalists, for instance, had asked Wanger to require increased river water flows into the Delta starting this fall, which would push back saltier water that smelt can't tolerate and allow them to reach critical feeding grounds.

 

Wanger declined to do that.

 

His ruling Friday stems from a 2005 lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which sought to help protect the Delta smelt population, which is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

 

The 3-inch-long fish, which lives only a year, is considered an indicator of the Delta's health.

 

"This species is not only in jeopardy, it is at the tipping point," Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Michael Wall said in his closing argument.

 

State and federal water officials agree the smelt population is in decline, but there is broad disagreement with environmentalists on the reasons. Water officials say pumping is one reason, but other factors, such as loss of food supplies and the introduction of foreign plant and fish species, have altered the environment and caused the smelt population to plummet.

 

Pumping can cause the river channels to run backward. Smelt are often tricked by the flow and can move with the current into the pumps, according to testimony during the hearing.

 

State authorities for that reason took the unprecedented step in May of shutting down huge water pumps for 10 days in the south Delta after they found that rising numbers of the rare fish had been sucked to their death.

 

Orr, of Earthjustice, said Wanger's ruling doesn't necessarily mean pumping must be reduced. He said increased releases from Northern California reservoirs or a rainy season could also do the job.

 

Wanger gave both sides 50 days to take his oral statement and fashion it into a written order. He urged them to work together, and warned that if they didn't, he would take written submissions from both sides and craft the order himself.

 

Earlier this year, Wanger threw out a key U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opinion on water management and pumping in the Delta. His decision required the opinion to be rewritten.

 

Friday's ruling will be in effect only until that opinion is rewritten. Dan Nelson, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, expects that to be completed around this time next year.

 

In the meantime, however, he said the lack of rainfall this past year has put reservoirs at critically low levels. Low water levels combined with Wanger's decision mean agricultural interests on the San Joaquin Valley's west side could see water deliveries cut in half -- and that's if rainfall is normal in the upcoming season, Nelson said.

 

If it's a dry year, he said, "we'll be lucky to deliver any water to farms."

 

West side farmer Dan Errotabere, who grows almonds, pistachios, garlic and other crops on a little more than 5,000 acres, said the decision adds to uncertainty at a time when he is planning for 2008.

 

Farmers and growers in the Westlands Water District say Wanger's decision could force them to pump groundwater, which is of lower quality.

It could also lead to more land being taken out of production, an increase in dust emissions from unfarmed land and the risk of land subsiding when groundwater is pumped out.

 

"It was an uncertain business before," Errotabere said. "It's certainly more now."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.#

http://www.sacbee.com/101/story/355526.html

 

Court ruling on delta alarms water officials

San Jose Mercury News - 9/1/07

By Sean Webby, staff writer

 

Santa Clara County water officials were envisioning possible water shortages and mandatory conservation in the wake of a federal judge's ruling Friday expected to dramatically cut the amount of water flowing to the rest of the state from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta. 

 

The cuts, ordered by U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger, are intended to protect endangered fish. But restricting the flow from the water pumps to save the fish could cut statewide water flow from the delta by one-sixth to one-third. About half of Santa Clara County's water comes from the delta, water district officials said. 

 

The "Silicon Valley water supply could be hit hard by this latest court ruling," said Susan Siravo, a spokeswoman for the Santa Clara County Water District. "We really need people now more than ever to conserve." 

 

Officials were still studying the ruling Friday and were unsure of exactly what effect the ruling would have, Siravo said. But if the area suffered more dry bouts or drought conditions, the cutbacks could mean mandatory conservation. 

 

Officials could be forced to draw on some of the area's emergency water reserves. The county's 10 reservoirs were at 57 percent capacity this week. 

Residents could also notice drier streambeds. The district manages about 100 miles of streams. And Siravo wondered aloud if the ruling, intended to protect smelt, would hurt sensitive habitats of steelhead trout, red-legged frogs and turtles in the valley. 

 

"If the water is coming out of people's taps, they are happy and may not realize what the challenges are that are facing us," Siravo said, asking for more public education and awareness. "A lot of people don't know how reliant we are on the delta." 

Wanger's decision sent shock waves through the state. 

 

The judge ruled that pressure from the pumps helped reverse the natural direction of water within the estuary, damaging habitat and killing delta smelt, a fish that experts say might be on the brink of extinction. 

 

"The evidence is uncontradicted that these project operations move the fish," Wanger said after hearing objections from defendants, who had argued that other factors led to the fish's decline. "It happens, and the law says something has to be done about it." 

 

Under the ruling, limits would be put in place from the end of December, when the fish are about to spawn, until June, when young fish can move into areas with better habitat and more food. 

 

Wanger also prescribed other measures, such as increased monitoring of the fish's presence in its adult and juvenile stages at several points in the delta. 

Pumps operated by the Central Valley Project - operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation - send water to farmers in the agricultural valley south of the delta. The State Water Project - operated by the California Department of Water Resources - delivers the water to urban and rural water users as far south as Los Angeles. 

 

The water serves more than 25 million Californians and thousands of acres of crops. 

 

In a year with an average amount of precipitation, about 6 million acre feet of water is pumped from the delta, and up to one-third of that could be lost under Wanger's order, said Jerry Johns, Department of Water Resources deputy director. 

 

Tim Quinn, who heads the Association of California Water Agencies, said the ruling would have a serious impact in a state already coming off a dry winter and spring. 

 

"A sober assessment of this says it's a very large deal," Quinn said.#

http://www.mercurynews.com/localnewsheadlines/ci_6778881?nclick_check=1

 

Ruling to cut into water flow to region

Judge's order will protect fish, but cause shortages 

San Diego Union Tribune - 9/1/07

By Michael Gardner
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

 

SACRAMENTO - A federal judge yesterday ordered a dramatic slowdown in pumping water to Southern California - an unprecedented decision aimed at protecting a tiny fish in the Sacramento delta, but one that will have widespread economic and political repercussions across the state. 

 

U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger's extraordinary ruling to save the endangered delta smelt could cost California as much as 2 million acre-feet of water a year - enough for 4 million people - and raises the prospects of rationing and thousands of acres of idled farmland. 

 

The San Diego County Water Authority expects to be squeezed. The Sacramento delta is the source of nearly 40 percent of the region's annual supply, and local officials are studying their options. 

 

"Supply shortages and mandatory water-use restrictions are a very real possibility," said Fern Steiner, chairwoman of the water authority board. 

 

Longer term, the loss of urban and farm deliveries will pile more water woes on an already parched state. California is in the throes of a deepening dry spell, from the Colorado River to the Sierra. Climate change is expected to make Mother Nature more fickle. And booming growth will only increase demand. 

 

Solutions will be costly and polarizing, from building reservoirs to resurrecting the once-rejected Peripheral Canal to move water around the delta. 

 

Wanger's decision in a Fresno courtroom drew a sharp rebuke from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is aggressively pressing for delta restoration. 

 

"Today's federal court ruling to drastically cut delta water exports is further proof that our water system is broken, unreliable and in crisis," Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "This decision is also going to have a devastating impact on the state's economy and the 25 million Californians who depend on delta water." 

State water suppliers agreed that the decision is the most far-reaching of its kind in the history of California's well-documented water wars. 

 

"It will have a significant impact on our economy and quality of life," said Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the water authority. 

 

The Sacramento delta is the hub of California's water supply. Two-thirds of the state's drinking water and irrigation supplies to more than 1 million acres of farmland flow through the 1,100-mile maze of waterways. 

 

In his ruling, Wanger sided with environmentalists who say the 3-inch smelt are sucked down the delta and killed by the water pumps. The smelt also is an indicator of the overall health of the delta's valuable ecosystem, they say. 

 

"The evidence is uncontradicted that these project operations move the fish," Wanger said, according to The Associated Press. "It happens, and the law says something has to be done about it." 

 

State and federal officials, as well as many farmers and businesses that rely on supplies, counter that other factors such as pollution and predators are also to blame. 

 

Officials were still sorting out the ruling Wagner made from the bench, but late yesterday they estimated that the smelt safeguards will prevent state and federal pumps from delivering 14 percent to 37 percent of normal capacity. That amounts to 800,000 acre-feet to 2 million acre-feet a year. 

 

The judge did not set a precise figure. The final amount, as interpreted by state water officials, depends on how close the smelt are to the pumps and at what time of the year. 



The order will stay in effect from December until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adopts a new plan to safeguard the fish, probably in spring. By all accounts, that plan will also require a large amount of water. 

 

In effect, water officials say, the smelt will compound California's water shortages for years to come. 

 

At the same time, agencies will have to scramble to find water from willing sellers, potentially creating a bidding war. However, it might be difficult for those securing supplies to find a time when the pumps will be free to ship additional supplies. 

 

San Diego might be 450 miles from the pumps near Tracy, but what happens in the delta will have a lasting effect on the region's water supply and economy. 

The region's 2007 water-supply figures clearly show its precarious position. 

 

The water authority is counting on the delta for 288,580 acre-feet. That's 39 percent of its total deliveries of 748,000 acre-feet and enough to serve about 577,000 households for a year. An acre-foot is enough to meet the annual needs of two households. 

 

Still undetermined is whether the fallout will mean droughtlike rationing or continuing less-onerous voluntary conservation. But water managers statewide say rationing is more likely now. 

 

San Diego battled its wholesaler, the giant Metropolitan Water District, over scarce allocations at the height of the 1987-92 drought. While relations between the two agencies have improved, Metropolitan still controls deliveries. 

 

The water authority contracts with Metropolitan for 614,000 acre-feet a year, or 82 percent of its annual need. 

 

A decision on how much and how soon the cuts will carve into the region's supply will be debated in the Metropolitan board room this fall. 

How much San Diego County residents and business will be squeezed also "depends on how kind Mother Nature is to us," Stapleton said. 

The longe-range forecast for drought-busting storms is not promising, said Doug Le Conte, a drought specialist with the National Weather Service. 

"The news is not good," he said. 

 

Le Conte forecasts below-average snowfall throughout the Colorado River Basin this winter. This would extend the dry spell along the river into a ninth year. 

Heavy snows in the Sierra may not materialize, compounding shortages in the Delta. The Sierra snowpack was about 30 percent of normal last season. Only brimming reservoirs forestalled immediate and more painful reductions. 

 

Le Conte predicts a normal weather pattern - at best - for the Sierra. 

 

In response to the deepening supply crisis, water districts across California have launched a series of voluntary water conservation programs. The San Diego County Water Authority and Metropolitan are calling for a 10 percent reduction. 

 

County water authority officials are searching to buy up to 50,000 acre-feet water to store in Kern County. They also are moving forward with plans to enlarge San Vicente Reservoir by 52,000 acre-feet and may consider adding another 100,000 acre-feet of capacity later. 

 

In Sacramento, the judge's decision may increase pressure on lawmakers to act on proposals to approve reservoirs and build a new fish-friendly plumbing system to deliver water through the delta. 

 

Schwarzenegger has endorsed a $5.9 billion bond to pay for two reservoirs, study a water conveyance system, open more groundwater aquifers and improve the delta. 

 

But key Democrats were leaning against the governor's proposal, not convinced of the need to build reservoirs and wary of a new aqueduct.#

http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20070901/news_1n1water.html

 

Smelt ruling may cut into water supply

Official says the decision in an environmental suit could force a one-third reduction in shipments from the delta to the Southland.

Los Angeles Times - 9/1/07

James Ricci and Eric Bailey, staff writers

 

A federal judge Friday ordered protective measures for a tiny endangered fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, a mandate state water officials warned could cut Northern California water exports to Southern California by a third or more. 

Environmental lawyers disputed the officials' draconian assessment of U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger's decision to protect the delta smelt, a creature that biologists say is facing extinction in large part because of increased pumping from the delta. The fish are weak swimmers and tend to be sucked into the water system's massive pumps and killed.

 

Water officials said the judge's decision could be the most significant ever on the state's ability to deliver water through the delta, the key crossroads for the movement of water supplies to Southern California.

In a normal water year, they said, deliveries through the delta could be cut by up to 37% -- a loss of enough water to supply upward of 4 million households. Dry years could see smaller cuts, but there would be less water to begin with.

"It means there will be less water delivered than we normally do," said Jerry Johns, deputy director of the state Department of Water Resources, which runs the California Aqueduct.

The decision comes in a suit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice against the Department of Interior and water agencies, among others. 

Kate Poole, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, questioned the officials' numbers. "I don't think they can say that," she said. "I don't think anybody has yet figured out how much delivery reduction this would cause."

Poole said any decrease in water supplies would be "in the natural range of variability that water users can and do deal with all the time."

Wanger ordered that water flows be maintained at sufficient levels to keep the endangered fish away from the pumps from the end of December, when they're about to spawn, until June, when young fish are moving into areas with more food. A major way of maintaining the flow levels is reducing the amount of water being moved out of the delta.

With several water districts already eyeing the possibility of mandatory water rationing, the results for the Southern California economy could be significant, said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Assn. of California Water Agencies.

"A sober assessment says it's a very large deal," Quinn said. "Water agencies have to prepare for the worst."

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which provides drinking water to nearly 17 million people, obtains 60% of its water from the delta. The district has already warned local farmers to expect a 30% cutback Jan. 1.

In anticipation of a water shortage, the authority in recent years struck a deal for more Colorado River water from the water-rich Imperial Irrigation District, began planning for a seawater-to-fresh water project, and designed storage improvements.

Concerns about the effect of the ruling reverberated in San Diego too. Fern Steiner, chairwoman of the San Diego County Water Authority, said the decision could require rationing.

The authority, which provides water to 24 local agencies, recently asked residents to reduce daily usage by 20 gallons per person. Authority General Manager Maureen Stapleton said it is time to begin serious negotiations about a canal that would loop around the delta.

Though any restrictions created by the judge's decision eventually would be replaced by a new biological opinion being fashioned by federal wildlife managers, Quinn said there is "no reason to believe a biological opinion will be any easier on water supplies." 

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called the decision "further proof that our water system is broken, unreliable and in crisis" and "a devastating blow to our water system and state economy."

Schwarzenegger cited his proposed $5.9-billion comprehensive water plan, which includes $1 billion for delta restoration and a new system for diverting water around the delta, as the sort of investment needed to guarantee supplies to the 25 million Californians who depend on delta water while also protecting its ecosystem.

Terry Erlewine, general manager of the State Water Contractors, said farmers in the San Joaquin Valley probably would be forced to leave fields unplanted and groundwater pumping would be increased to offset slashed water imports. Even if next winter yields average rainfall and snowpack, he said, users will have to tap water reserves, making the state even more vulnerable in a drought.

Michael Boccadoro, spokesman for the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, a group of users who depend on delta water, said the decision means "the delta crisis is now a full-blown catastrophe. We have effectively relinquished control of our major water supply systems -- the lifeblood of our economy -- to the federal courts."

 

Delta smelt, the subject of the court's decision, grow to about 3 inches long and live only about a year. A so-called indicator species that is a harbinger of ecological conditions in the delta, the smelt were declared endangered in 1993. Since then, federal and state water managers occasionally have had to cut back on the amount of water released from the delta to protect the fish. 

In June, water diversion was suspended entirely for nine days after unusually large numbers of smelt died in the pumps. 

Biologists and environmentalists contend that the increasing diversion of delta water is nudging the fish toward extinction. A recent survey showed the number of juveniles to be less than one-tenth of normal -- a dire portent for the survival of the species. 

Delta water exports in the last five years have been among the highest on record, according to state figures. Environmentalists have contended that the increase has had a direct effect on smelt numbers, which biologists say are at unprecedented lows. 

In 2005, when a large number of the California Water Project's 40-year contracts with its customers were coming due, water managers asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine what effect their plans would have on the tiny fish. In a biological opinion, the federal agency concluded that water operations in the delta did not jeopardize the smelt's survival.

The finding brought howls of protest from environmentalists, who promptly sued in federal court. They said the biological opinion was part of a pattern of Bush administration environmental decisions that ignored sound science.

Wanger invalidated the biological opinion in May. He called the delta smelt "indisputably in jeopardy as to its survival and recovery," and castigated the federal report as "arbitrary, capricious and contrary to law."

When the nine-day shutdown of water exports in June was over, and the massive pumps were back in full operation, smelt fatalities rose dramatically. The Natural Resources Defense Council and the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice asked Wanger to order state and U.S. officials to cut back the pumping immediately.

Wanger refused their request, instead convening the trial that led to Friday's decision.#

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-delta1sep01,1,1803921.story?coll=la-headlines-california&ctrack=4&cset=true

 

Judge: Cut water to help endangered fish

Delta fish near extinction

Oakland Tribune - 9/2/07

By Mike Taugher, STAFF WRITER

 

California's water supply suffered a historic blow Friday when a federal judge ordered a series of cutbacks and other measures meant to protect a tiny Delta fish from going extinct. 

 

The order is expected to force water agencies up and down the state to consider water rationing next year and could force San Joaquin Valley farmers to fallow hundreds of thousands of acres, water officials said. 

 

The momentous decision did not go as far as environmentalists hoped nor as far as farmers and other water users feared it might. 

 

Still, officials said the ruling could end up reducing daily water deliveries out of the Delta by about 1 million acre-feet, or enough for 2 million households. Under one worst-case scenario, state water officials said Delta water deliveries could be cut by twice that amount. 

 

State and federal water officials recently have been taking about 6 million acre-feet year from the Delta, a record high amount so the 1 million acre-feet cut could become even more crippling in a drought year. 

 

"These reductions represent the single largest court-ordered redirection of water in state history," said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies. 

 

Quinn also called the ruling the most significant endangered species decision in history. 

 

The order by U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger comes three months after he ruled that a key permit that allows state and federal water pumps to operate even though they 

 

kill the protected Delta smelt is insufficient and illegal. 

 

The Delta smelt population, along with several other small fish of the Delta, has suffered a dizzying decline in recent years. Water deliveries are contributing to the problem but pollution and invasive species are factors, too. 

 

The judge said he considered his task nearly impossible but believed the law required him to step in because federal regulators in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had failed to prescribe conditions that would protect the fish from going extinct. 

 

"The party that has responsibility for protecting the species is here, and that's the federal government," Wanger said. "What the evidence does show is there is more to be done than is being done. The impacts are extreme and severe. There's no question about that." 

 

His order will put in place new restrictions on pumping during the first half of the year. It was not as strict as Fish and Wildlife Service biologists recommended in a proposal developed for his consideration, but it also was not as relaxed as the California Department of Water Resources wanted. 

 

He also denied a request from environmentalists to require more water released from reservoirs in the fall in order to improve the Delta habitat with fresher water. 

"This is better than what we had before but we didn't get some things we wanted," said Trent Orr, attorney for Earthjustice, which brought the case on behalf of environmentalists. 

 

Urban water agencies from the Bay Area to San Diego will have to tap other water sources, dip into drought supplies or use less water, all of which could create problems if the restrictions persist or if next year is dry. 

 

Farm districts, which typically have less water in reserve, will be hit more immediately. 

 

"This is a fundamental change," said Dan Nelson, executive director of the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority. He said San Joaquin Valley farms are likely to get about half as much water as they get now, and that will lead to fallowing hundreds of thousands of acres. 

 

The order will be in effect until the Fish and Wildlife Service drafts a new permit, which is expected about a year from now. 

 

But water agency are very worried that its conditions represent a new status quo because it is based on conditions recommended from the Fish and Wildlife Service. 

 

"We are looking at an indefinite period that won't end if there's rain," Quinn said. #

http://www.insidebayarea.com/oaklandtribune/localnews/ci_6786102

 

Judge imposes water limits to protect Delta fish
Sacramento Bee - 8/31/07
By JULIANA BARBASSA - Associated Press Writer
 
FRESNO, Calif. -- A federal judge on Friday imposed limits on water flows caused by massive pumps sending water from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River delta to users around the state, saying the pumps were drawing in and destroying a threatened fish.

 

U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger said pressure from the pumps helped reverse the natural direction of water within the estuary, damaging habitat and killing delta smelt, a fish that experts say might be on the brink of extinction.

 

"The evidence is uncontradicted that these project operations move the fish," Wanger said after hearing objections from defendants, who had argued that other factors led to the fish's decline. "It happens, and the law says something has to be done about it." 

 

Under the ruling, limits would be put in place from the end of December, when the fish are about to spawn, until June, when young fish can move into areas with better habitat and more food.

 

Wanger also prescribed other measures, such as increased monitoring of the fish's presence in its adult and juvenile stages at several points in the delta.

Pumps operated by the Central Valley Project - operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation - send water to farmers in the agricultural valley south of the delta. The State Water Project - operated by the California Department of Water Resources - delivers the water to urban and rural water users as far south as Los Angeles.

 

The water serves more than 25 million Californians and thousands of acres of crops.

 

In a year with an average amount of precipitation, about 6 million acre feet of water is pumped from the delta, and up to one-third of that could be lost under Wanger's order, said Jerry Johns, DWR's deputy director.

 

Tim Quinn, who heads the Association of California Water Agencies, said the ruling would have a serious impact in a state already coming off a dry winter and spring. Some districts have already ordered conservation measures and tapped into their water reserves, he said.

 

"A sober assessment of this says it's a very large deal," Quinn said. "We are not only losing supply here, you are greatly compromising the tools we have developed to deal with water shortages."

 

The Natural Resources Defense Council and four other environmental groups had asked Wanger to demand an immediate change to the pumping rate to reduce harm to the smelt until a new set of pumping guidelines is expected next year.

 

Both sides agree the smelt population has declined precipitously. The fish are protected under the California Endangered Species Act, and their well-being is considered a measure of the environmental health of the fragile delta ecosystem.

 

In May and June, state and federal agencies stopped or slowed down their pumps in an effort to protect the smelt, after the population reached an all-time low. But environmental groups want permanent measures to improve conditions for the fish.

 

Friday's decision was complex, and both sides said they needed time to fully understand its impacts. But environmentalists largely welcomed it as an improvement over current conditions.

 

"It's better than what there was before," said Trent Orr, an attorney with the environmental group Earthjustice, which was party to the suit.

 

But they wanted more, said Orr, including measures that would have protected habitat from encroaching salt from the San Francisco Bay in the fall.

 

Water contractors who get their supplies from the state and federal projects said the measure would likely curtail their access to water to the point where it would harm rural economies and hamper urban water use.

 

"Rural communities have an economy based entirely on ag. ... This is a huge hit on economies that are already depressed," said Dan Nelson, executive director of the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority, which serves about 1 million acres of farmland as well as the urban water district in Silicon Valley.

Nelson believed the decision would leave farmers with half the water they were expecting in the coming year and urban users having to make do with the minimum deliveries guaranteed by contract.

 

The ruling will have "a devastating impact on the state's economy and the 25 million Californians who depend on Delta water," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "We need to invest in a better conveyance system so we have reliable water supplies and are able to protect the Delta's fragile ecosystem."

Schwarzenegger has asked the state Legislature to approve a $5.9 billion bond to build two new dams and study the possibility of building a canal to route fresh water from the Sacramento River around the delta, in part, to protect the fish. But there has been little movement on the issue with lawmakers.#

http://www.sacbee.com/114/story/354671.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://www2.dcn.org/pipermail/env-trinity/attachments/20070905/1b51707d/attachment-0001.html
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: not available
Type: image/gif
Size: 800 bytes
Desc: not available
Url : http://www2.dcn.org/pipermail/env-trinity/attachments/20070905/1b51707d/attachment-0001.gif


More information about the env-trinity mailing list