Ag Today October 21, 2016

Water board, farm bureau differ on approach to Delta fish

State Water Board report says Delta fish would benefit from increased water flows

Max Resnik -Reporter

California’s State Water Control Board released a report on the second phase of an updated Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan, which is focused on the preservation and growth of Delta fish and other wildlife.


 Water board releases Phase 2, which is focused on Delta fish
 Reports finds range of tributary flows from 35 to 75 percent of unimpaired water could be key in helping fish
 Farm bureau strongly opposes such a move

It’s been 21 years since an update to the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan, according to Les Grober, Deputy Director for Water Rights at the State Water Control Board.

Grober says the approach is multi-phased, and in Phase 2, the focus is on fish.

“This is all intended to protect a wide range of species, including Delta smelt, longfin smelt, Sacramento splittail, two runs of salmon; spring-run, winter-run salmon. But the full assemblage of fish and wildlife in the Delta and Sacramento and its tributaries,” Grober said.

The scientific findings presented in Phase 2 call for Delta fish and other aquatic species to be the recipients of 35 to 75 percent of unimpaired flow.

Unimpaired flow refers to free-flowing water or water, for example, that doesn’t make it to reservoirs or farms or people’s taps.

According to the State Water Board’s findings, the number of migrating salmon out of the Delta during spring increases with an increased flow. That, in turn, leads to improved population numbers.

California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger, who strongly opposes the suggestions made in the Phase 2 report, says the science on the population growth in fish as the result of increased flows is not precise.

“It takes 1,200 gallons of water to feed every individual in California every day. To produce the food that they eat 1,200 gallons of water, and yet we’re going to send this water out to the ocean and not know that we’re going to be able to save one more fish,” said Wenger.

Wenger says that if 75 percent of the unimpaired flow goes to fish, as opposed to farmers or municipalities, the agriculture industry faces serious risks.

“This is going to hurt farmers. It’s going to hurt local communities. It’s going to hurt businesses dependent upon agriculture. It’s going to hurt a lot of people. In fact, you could see people lose their jobs. You’re going to see farms devalued,” Wenger.

Phase 2 is far from completion.

Grober says the report is currently in the hands of the Delta Stewardship Council’s Independent Science board for review.

Then, a public workshop is scheduled for Dec. 7.

Members of the public can also submit comments in writing by Dec. 16.

“Then we can move into the next step and prepare that report and do the balancing, consider the effects of any proposed flows on agriculture and municipal drinking water and other uses,” he said.

Grober says it could be a year before the scientific review process is complete and Phase 2 could be implemented.