[env-trinity] SF Chron 2 27 10

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Sat Feb 27 16:43:25 PST 2010

Water agencies loosen taps; Feinstein backs off

Peter Fimrite, Chronicle Staff Writer <mailto:pfimrite at sfchronicle.com> 

Saturday, February 27, 2010




Reservoir levels (John Blanchard / The Chronicle)

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015436S39.DTL> The world's strongest earthquakes 02.27.10

State and federal water regulators agreed Friday to open the spigots a bit
more on account of all the recent rain and snow, prompting Sen. Dianne
Feinstein to drop her threat to bypass the Endangered Species Act to get
farmers more water.

The announcements from Sacramento and Washington offered some relief to
Central Valley farmers and ration-weary homeowners, but happy times for the
tenders of hay fields and hot tubs are still a long way off, according to
water regulators. 

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will be giving farmers south of the
Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta 30 percent of the water they requested.
That's compared with 10 percent in 2009, when many fields were left fallow.
The percentage could rise to 40 percent, analysts said, as water is
purchased from other sources.

The California Department of Water Resources raised its allotment to 15
percent of the water requested by water agencies representing some 25
million residents. That's up from the 5 percent originally proposed - but it
is comparable to the amount of water allocated at this time last year.

"Valley farmers have suffered tremendously during California's three-year
drought," U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in a statement.
"The department has identified actions that will provide additional water on
top of what an average water year would deliver."

The announcements came a day after federal officials predicted a huge
increase in the number of salmon in the Sacramento River system despite a
record low number last year, opening the possibility of a fishing season.
The salmon season had been canceled for the past two years because of low
numbers of spawning fish. 

Environmental advocates and fishermen have blamed the drop in salmon numbers
on increased water diversions to farmers that they say have sucked baby
salmon into pumps.

Change of plans

Regulators on Friday denied that the optimistic forecasts had anything to do
with Feinstein's threat to amend the law and increase pumping for farmers,
but the rosy outlook nevertheless convinced her to scotch her controversial

"Much creative thinking and work has been done by many people to make this
happen, for which I thank the many people involved," Feinstein said in a
statement. "I will watch this situation carefully and I am placing my
proposed amendment on hold; however, I reserve the right to bring it back
should it become necessary."

The water content of the California snowpack is currently above average for
this time of year, especially in the northern Sierra, which is 121 percent
of normal. That's important because rain and snow runoff in the northern
Sierra feeds the state's largest reservoir, Shasta Lake, which, at its
current 72 percent capacity, is at 98 percent of average for this date. 

Lake Oroville, the State Water Project's primary source of drinking water,
is only 38 percent full. That's 54 percent of the average storage for this

Different roles

Water from Shasta is used by the federal Central Valley Project to irrigate
about 3 million acres of farmland from Redding to Bakersfield and provide
drinking water for close to 2 million people. The State Water Project, in
contrast, is oriented more toward urban and industrial uses, providing
drinking water to about 25 million Californians and water to 700,000 acres
of farmland. 

The discrepancy in the levels of the two big reservoirs, analysts say, is
because abundant rainfall can fill Shasta while Oroville relies more on snow
runoff in the spring. Water managers said a lot of the runoff is being
absorbed into the ground, which is still parched after three years of

Mark Cowin, the director of the state Department of Water Resources, said
the 15 percent state allocation would be the lowest in history. The
department ultimately delivered 40 percent of what was requested last year -
a year in which many Bay Area communities were forced to ration water. Cowin
said the amount could be increased to as high as 40 percent if the storms
keep coming. If they stop, though, he said, things could get worse.

"Despite a relatively wet winter, our reservoir storage levels remain low,"
Cowin said. "After three years of drought conditions and a number of
mandated pumping restrictions, even a wet year won't get us out of the

Some still upset

Environmentalists and fishermen expressed relief that Feinstein will not be
going through with her threat to mandate increased pumping, but they were
still upset that farming got the nod over regulations protecting salmon

"We're happy that the water year is looking better than the last three
years. It is good news for the environment and it is good news for the
cities," said Spreck Rosekrans, the senior analyst for the Environmental
Defense Fund. "We're disappointed that the Endangered Species Act has been
put in the balance subject to this year's hydrology. It's a bad precedent." 

Read more:



Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land/fax (call first to fax)

415 519 4810 mobile

 <mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net

 <mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org

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