January 18, 2018
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Trump Move to Boost Delta Pumping Raises Fears About Fish Impacts

Some experts are questioning the legality of the Trump administration’s plan to increase water pumping of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, while others are concerned about the consequences for imperiled salmon and other fish.

by Alastair Bland


IN THE FINAL days of 2017, President Donald Trump’s administration announced it would consider sending as much water as possible from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to farmers and cities to the south. The notice comes as a follow-up to a speech Trump made in Fresno during his presidential campaign, when he condemned the downstream flow of river water into the ocean as “insane.”

While the state’s agricultural community has welcomed the proposal, issued by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on December 29, fishery advocates have not. They warn that pumping more water out of the Delta will threaten the survival of imperiled salmon runs, as well as the critically endangered Delta smelt.

“Chinook salmon and other fish and wildlife species native to California are already teetering on the brink of extinction because too much water is being diverted from the Delta,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, which lobbies to protect rivers, salmon and fishers. He said further reducing the amount of water flowing through the Delta could directly reduce the survival of young salmon, which are born in the upper reaches of the Central Valley’s rivers and depend on strong outflows to safely reach the sea.

Erin Curtis, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Reclamation, says her agency will collaborate with federal and state fishery agencies to ensure that endangered species are not harmed by changes to pumping operations in the federally run Central Valley Project, which she says could occur within a year.

In its late-December “Notice of Intent,” the bureau described a plan “to maximize water deliveries and optimize marketable power generation.” Following this would require “potential modifications to the operation of the Central Valley Project, in coordination with California’s State Water Project.” The Central Valley Project is a system of pumps and canals that handle about half of the water that is diverted from the Delta. The State Water Project, operated by the California Department of Water Resources, also exports Delta water and sends it mostly to cities.

The Trump administration’s bid to take more water from the Delta, which would mostly benefit farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, could cause friction between different regulating agencies. The State Water Resources Control Board has considered reducing total pumping by updating its Water Quality Control Plan, a document aimed in part at protecting salmon and other fish. In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service discussed taking formal action to boost struggling salmon populations.

Releasing salmon into the San Joaquin River near Fresno, California, in the Central Valley. Some fisheries experts are concerned about the impact on fish of potential plans to increase pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta via the Central Valley Project. (John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources)

Releasing salmon into the San Joaquin River near Fresno, California, in the Central Valley. Some fisheries experts are concerned about the impact on fish of potential plans to increase pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta via the Central Valley Project. (John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources)


Originally published in News Deeply | Photo Credit: Wonderlane/Flickr/CC

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