Federal officials are running the massive pumps of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta at low levels to protect the endangered delta smelt, but the move could keep west-side agriculture from getting its promised annual water allocation.
Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District, said the pumping reductions are unnecessary, but environmentalists say the actions are necessary to protect the smelt.
"A substantial portion [of delta smelt] -- in excess of 90% -- are outside the influence of the pumps," Birmingham said. "From our perspective, the restrictions are unnecessary to avoid jeopardy to the species."Quantcast
Despite the concern, west-side water officials are confident they can get their promised federal water allotment through increased pumping in July.
Early this year, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials announced that Westlands and other water contractors south of the delta would receive no water this year.
Above-average precipitation in March bumped that to 10%.
But under a new set of rules governing management of the smelt that was announced last December, delta pumping can be affected in May and June if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes the fish are near the pumps or are at risk of being sucked into and killed by their operation.
The updated rules -- known as a biological opinion -- were drafted after U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger invalidated earlier regulations because they did not comply with the federal Endangered Species Act.
Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Al Donner said a large number of juvenile smelt have been killed this month by the pumps' operation, necessitating pumping decisions that protect the species.
Pumping restrictions end June 30, however, and officials such as those with Westlands who depend on federal water allocations are working on a plan to make up for the low amount of water being pumped this month.
There are two pumps at the southern end of the delta -- one for the State Water Project and another for the federal Central Valley Project.
Birmingham said approval will be sought to move federal water through the state pumps, which are larger and can move more water than the federal pumps. In addition, he said there is a good amount of water in both the Folsom and Shasta reservoirs, which are key reservoirs for federal water.
Even though most of the snow runoff will have occurred July 1, Birmingham believes that Westlands can not only get its promised 10% allocation, but surpass it.
Still, Westlands is unhappy about the effects of the new smelt management plan.
Westlands spokeswoman Sarah Woolf said 300,000 acre-feet of state and federal water went into the ocean in March to satisfy the new smelt requirements.
By mid-May, the amount was 459,000 acre-feet.
California agriculture uses about 30 million acre-feet of water per year, federal officials said.
Each acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, or a 12- to 18-month supply of water for an average family.
In a recent ruling by Wanger, the federal government was instructed to explain their weekly decisions to set the flow rates at the delta pumps.
The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by Westlands and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority over the updated smelt management plan.
West side water officials haven't liked what they have heard so far.
Birmingham, of the Westlands Water District, said the Endangered Species Act does not prohibit incidental killing of smelt. It only prohibits operations that could cause jeopardy to the species.
Of the pumping reductions, he said, "there has been no explanation this is necessary."