Drought Alert: Call to Re-examine ‘Harmful Actions’

Taylor Hillman Drought



As the state continues to struggle with drought, a group of California lawmakers are taking to task a move to even further reduce water to parts of the state.

Sixteen members of the California House delegation sent a letter to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker regarding proposed actions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  and the National Marine Fisheries Service that, if implemented, will significantly reduce the water supply available to Californians.

The letter states the new actions will significantly limit releases from Shasta Reservoir through the summer and into fall, costing the Central Valley Project (CVP) approximately 400,000 acre-feet of water.

The letter can be viewed in full here.

Rep. Jim Costa (CA-16) is one of the signers on the letter and released the following statement in regards to it.

“After four years of drought and two years of zero water allocations for many farms and communities served by the Central Valley Project (CVP), 2016 El Nino conditions created an opportunity for recovery for businesses and small communities on the brink of devastation. Today, Shasta Reservoir and Folsom Lake, the CVP’s two major reservoirs in the Sacramento River watershed, both enjoy above average storage, and there is sufficient water for the Bureau of Reclamation to meet the commitment made earlier this year to supply 100 percent water allocations to farmers in the Sacramento Valley, the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors, and wildlife refuges in the San Joaquin Valley. However, the United States National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) are now proposing new efforts to recover species, impacting CVP operations and putting at risk Reclamation’s ability to deliver water previously allocated.


“Despite an abundance of water in Shasta Reservoir, NMFS is considering a temperature control plan that would permit releases of only 8,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water. This constraint, which is not required by any existing regulation, would prevent farmers in the Sacramento Valley from diverting water already promised by Reclamation and would limit Reclamation’s ability to export water to meet its commitment to the Exchange Contractors, senior water rights holders in the San Joaquin Valley. It is unimaginable, but this could lead to Reclamation having to make releases from Friant Dam and reduce water previously promised to farmers in the Friant system, who for the last two years received a zero allocation. The new restriction proposed by NMFS would also make it unlikely that Reclamation could supply the meager 5 percent allocation made for south-of-Delta agricultural water service contractors. Such conservative releases during the summer months will almost certainly require Reclamation to once again drain the reserves in Folsom Dam. These consequences are unacceptable.


“While NMFS is proposing water be held in in Shasta through the summer and fall, FWS is requesting additional outflow during the summer for the purpose of increasing habitat for Delta smelt. In an attempt to address the continued decline of smelt, while remaining focused on flows instead of the comprehensive approach that is required to recover the species, the FWS is placing additional stress on a broken water delivery system. This request is outside of the requirements of the 2008 Biological Opinion, and FWS has failed to conduct the required statutory analysis or identify any statutory authority under which the request is made. Further, the outflow request was made without adequate, scientific support or environmental review. Rather than collecting and analyzing data to make an informed, scientific decision that deals with the many factors influencing the decline of the delta smelt, FWS is requesting an action be taken that has an uncertain scientific basis and could, in fact, further imperil the recovery of smelt by creating better conditions for competing species.


“To add further complexities to the requests, the two requests are seemingly incompatible. The two resource agencies, which both have responsibility to implement the Endangered Species Act, are considering actions that are seemingly contradictory and would have incredibly serious impacts to the communities that rely on the water supplied by the CVP and SWP. In order to meet both of these actions, Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources would have to reallocate water previously promised to communities from the Sacramento Valley to Los Angeles. These communities need this water in order to aid in the recovery from a multi-year drought.


“These proposals would take away water not only from farms and communities, but from areas where CVP water is used to enhance the environment. In 2014 and 2015, Reclamation was unable to meet its legal obligation to make specified quantities of water to managed wetlands, where water is used to provide habitat for waterfowl and other species, including other endangered species like the giant garter snake. The single species management approach employed by NMFS and FWS ignores not only human needs for water, but the needs of other species that have equal protection under the law. It simply makes no common sense.


“These requests are unprecedented and the impacts, intended or not, will be severe throughout California. Until NMFS and FWS can develop a recovery plan that demonstrates these actions will provide quantifiable benefits to the species they are seeking to protect and have demonstrated that other actions that do not reduce water supply for people and the environment cannot produce comparable protections for the targeted species, these actions should not proceed. The most severely impacted by the rigid operations we have witnessed this year and by these actions are the small farming communities in the San Joaquin Valley, many of whom are suffering already from not only decreased water supply, but the risings costs associated with the delivery of scarce water.


“FWS and NMFS must start making operational decisions based on the best available science, decisions that properly consider impacts on other endangered species and communities in the Central Valley and are ultimately consistent with the intended purpose of the Central Valley and State Water Projects.”