Water reductions to impact Central Valley farmers
by Sam Matthews
Feb 15, 2013 | 2746 views | 2 2 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The mandated reduction of water pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta into state and federal canals is sending an early signal to local agricultural water users that it’s going to be another rough water year.

A reduction in the amount of water sent south by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and State Water Project plants northwest of Tracy has been prompted by state fish and wildlife officials concerned that the number of Delta smelt killed by the pumps is close to the limit imposed by the Endangered Species Act.

Those officials say that, so far, 232 smelt have been reported killed by pumping stations. The annual limit is 305 of the fish, which many environmentalists consider a bellwether for the Delta’s overall health.

The result is that already some 700,000 fewer acre feet of water has been pumped out of the Delta in recent months.

The federal pumping plant send 250,000 fewer acre feet into the Delta-Mendota Canal, according to Frances Mizuno, assistant executive director of the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority, which operates the system. The rest of the total was a reduction in the amount pumped by the State Water Project into the California Aqueduct.

“That 250,000 acre-foot reduction translates into a 15 percent drop in allocations of our project’s water to agricultural users,” Mizuno said. “We’ll know for certain by next week, when the first allocation estimates of the year are issued.”

Last year, irrigation districts who rely on federal water from the Delta-Mendota received 45 percent of their contracted water supplies. At the start of this water year, with water levels in reservoirs still relatively high, it appeared allocations up to 35 or 40 percent could be anticipated.

But with curtailed pumping and a general lack of rainfall since Jan. 1, allocations closer to 20 percent might be realistic, said Rick Gilmore, manager of the Byron Bethany Irrigation District.

He said some land in the district relies solely on Delta-Mendota water, and new almond orchards recently planted in the area require more water than open ground.

Mizuno said the pumping restrictions to protect the smelt will continue into March, when protection for the Delta’s winter-run salmon will begin.

“We anticipate that reductions will continue until around the first of July,” she said. “We will be operating one to three pumping units, instead of five units at full capacity.”

Except for one section of the Byron Bethany Irrigation District, most local irrigation districts — principally the West Side and Banta Carbona district — receive their water from both river sources above the federal and state pumps and from the Delta-Mendota Canal.

Jim McLeod, president of the Banta Carbona district, said despite the dual sources, the prospect of lower water allocations from the canal is a major concern for his district.

He also cast doubt on the pumping impact on the smelt, saying that he has yet to see any proof of a higher-than-usual number of dead smelt.

“Delta smelt are captured at the fish screens at the pumping plants and then released live,” he said. “Show me the dead fish!”

According to McLeod, fish-protection controls placed on pumping out of the Delta for the past 20 years haven’t improved the smelt situation.

The problems with the smelt have given ammunition to those who support twin tunnels that would take water out of the Sacramento River and send it directly to the pumping plants, instead of allowing it to flow through the Delta.

The current version of the original peripheral canal is estimated to cost $14 billion by Gov. Jerry Brown’s office..

Opponents, especially farmers north of Tracy and west of Stockton, say that would degrade water quality throughout the Delta.

Federal and state water and wildlife officials have stated they are trying to work out programs to reduce the impact of reduced pumping levels on water users, but so far those programs are only in the talking stage.

• Contact Sam Matthews at 830-4234 or shm@tracypress.com.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
February 15, 2013


how many of people even know what a smelt is?? This is the most ridiculous thing ever.. with the amount farmers have to pay for the water, i'm sure they would be happy to pay $200 to replace 232 dead 2" long smelt. I have 40 acres south of town and can't afford the $55 per acre ft for water to grown anything. For those of you living in town, that comes to about $6-$8k in water bill for a small bit of water.

How much are we paying the guy to go count dead smelt anyway??

Maybe I could get that job!
February 15, 2013
It is good news that pumping restrictions have eased somewhat but the bad news is that nothing fundamental has changed, meaning this same scenario can be expected to happen again in the future. During the last two months more than 727,000 acre-feet of water, or 237 billion gallons went to the ocean rather than the farms, homes and businesses that depend on it to support California jobs and the economy (farmwater.org/watersupplycutshurtusall.pdf).

DWR Director Mark Cowin was blunt about the prospects for improvements in a press conference on Tuesday when he said, "We have no reason to expect that next year will be any different or the year after that will be any different. And this conflict will continue to play out year after year, until we make fundamental changes in the way we manage the Delta."

It's time we take a sensible look at how we provide for the ecosystem while supporting our farms and jobs and people - and our nation's food supply.

Mike Wade

California Farm Water Coalition

We encourage readers to share online comments in this forum, but please keep them respectful and constructive. This is not a space for personal attacks, libelous statements, profanity or racist slurs. Comments that stray from the topic of the story or are found to contain abusive language are subject to removal at the Press’ discretion, and the writer responsible will be subject to being blocked from making further comments and have their past comments deleted. Readers may report inappropriate comments by e-mailing the editor at tpnews@tracypress.com.