Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today released the following statement calling on federal agencies to increase pumping as much as possible within the bounds of the biological opinions to capture and store more water during March storms:
“Between January 1 and March 6 last year, 1.3 million acre feet of water flowed through the Delta and 651,000 acre feet were pumped out. During the same period this year, 2.8 million acre feet of water flowed through the Delta, but only 627,000 acre feet were pumped out (see Chart A below).
“Pumping less water even though river flows more than doubled means 180,000 to 200,000 acre-feet of water was allowed to flow out to the sea instead of being captured and stored—enough water to supply 360,000 homes for a year. It’s inexcusable that pumping levels have been reduced without sufficient evidence of fish mortality, even while biological opinions would allow more pumping.
“January flows topped 50,000 cubic feet per second and peaked again in mid-February above 42,000 cubic feet per second. But rather than pumping as much water as possible under the biological opinions, pumping levels were ratcheted down for an entire month between mid-January and mid-February.
“In some instances these decisions were made even though available data suggested no smelt or salmon were anywhere near the pumps. I agree that pumping should be curtailed when these species are near the pumps, but in many cases the evidence simply didn’t support that conclusion. In other cases, adult smelt were spotted as far as 17 miles from pumps, which led to reduced pumping levels.
“Even if so-called turbidity bridges were present and required some reductions, many other days of high flows were squandered (see Chart B below). And it’s important to note that so far in 2016, only three smelt have actually been caught in the pumps.
“This is clear evidence of the need for legislation to allow more water to be pumped during periods of high river flows while still adhering to environmental laws and the biological opinions and their adaptive management provisions. I believe now more than ever that the bill I submitted last month is necessary, appropriate and will result in real help during this historic drought.
“By requiring daily monitoring of fish near the pumps during times of high turbidity, real-time data can be used to inform decisions rather than relying on intuition. I hope the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a mark-up of my bill as soon as possible so the Senate can debate it. It’s time to act.
Effects of lower pumping
“Just last week I met with 25 emerging leaders in California’s agriculture industry. One young farmer from Firebaugh told me that both he and his father lost their farms because of the drought, farms that employed 450 workers who harvested 4,800 acres of cantaloupes and honeydew melons.
“There are real-world consequences to the decisions being made in the Delta. That’s why we need to make sure we’re using every possible tool make the right choices. Basing pumping decisions on better science and real-time monitoring is the least we can do.”
Chart A (click for larger image) shows that even though 2016 river flows are more than double those in 2015, less water has been pumped out of the Delta. (The chart was created by the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority.)
Chart B (click for larger image) below shows that during some of the periods of highest river flows, pumping levels were actually reduced. Some of these reductions came due to concerns about turbidity, but many days of high river flows without elevated turbidity also saw reduced pumping. (The chart was created by Senator Feinstein’s office using data from the California Department of Water Resources, the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA Fisheries and the United States Geological Survey.)