In a state ravaged by rampaging wildfires and rolling blackouts – both resulting from the breathtaking incompetence of the government in Sacramento — good news is hard to come by. But some long-suffering Californians have just received a gift from – of all places – a Washington bureaucracy.
The Interior Department’s U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has updated a federal biological opinion that will allow more water to be pumped from northern California through the Sacramento-San Juaquin River Delta, where it will reach farmers and millions of other households. FWS had been using decade-old data to restrict the flow of water (a precious commodity in arid California) to protect the endangered Chinook Salmon and Delta Smelt.
What this means in human terms can be seen in the example of farmer Joe Del Bosque, who grows everything from almonds to melons. Even during wet years, he hasn’t been receiving his full water allotment from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation. He welcomes the Trump administration’s move.
“To bring new science into the light to see if we can operate the Delta in a better, more modernized method that will benefit both the environment and ourselves, the water users,” he told KFSN in Fresno.
In recent years, over 100 billion gallons of water have been flushed into San Francisco Bay each winter – enough to sustain millions of households – in what appears to be a fruitless effort to reverse the decline of the salmon and the smelt. The water was flushed into the bay even during the state’s severe drought earlier in the decade.
Not Working for Species or Rural Communities
Meanwhile, growers in the fertile Central Valley had to resort to pumping groundwater to save their crops. As noted by the Wall Street Journal (Oct. 25), the valley is where nearly all the nation’s pistachios, walnuts, garlic, and plums are grown. But the pumping of groundwater led to land subsiding and water becoming contaminated, earning Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) a stiff warning from EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler that 302 water systems in the state violate public health standards. Wheeler pointed out that 67 of those systems tested high for arsenic and that most of them are in low-income rural communities.
The old policy wasn’t working for the at-risk species or for the rural communities tied to the region’s agriculture.
The new biological opinion issued by the Trump administration will allow pumping to be adjusted based on real-time monitoring of fish rather than time of year. Pumping will be reduced if on-site biologists determine that the fish are in danger. What’s more, the Bureau of Reclamation will withhold more water in the Shasta Reservoir in wet years to help migrating salmon and will spend $1.5 billion over the next decade for species recovery.
Environmentalists are furious that an arrangement that demonstrably isn’t working for the environment (human or animal) is being replaced by one that promises to help both.
“It is disappointing that what began as an effort to strengthen protections to prevent extinction got hijacked and turned into a process to weaken protections to increase water diversions out of this estuary,” Doug Obeji of the Natural Resources Defense Council told KFSN.