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Drought barriers push Delta toward collapse

04/01/15 -- Restore the Delta (RTD), opponents of Gov. Brown’s rush to build water export Tunnels that would drain the Delta and doom sustainable farms, salmon and other Pacific fisheries, today responded to Gov. Brown’s latest drought measures.

“Governor Brown has had two responses of opposite extremes to the drought crisis,” said RTD executive director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla.

“The first response is to place the largest burden of conservation on urban water users. His second response is to push the Delta further toward ecological collapse by expediting the placement of a barrier system to block water flows. Those barriers will decimate fisheries and leave the people of the Delta to suffer due to drought mismanagement by state and federal agencies over the last four years," Barrigan-Parrilla said.

"Governor Brown vacillates between advocating for a good start on urban conservation and inflicting destruction on the Bay-Delta estuary. He refuses to deal with the real crisis: the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed has been five times over promised, with 70% of those water deliveries going to big almond growers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. Enforcing better reporting by agricultural users is an important step, but we already know which watersheds are oversubscribed and that the only way to solve the problem is for adjudication of the Delta watershed.”

The state and federal water projects’ drought contingency plan for 2015 estimates that water districts relying on Delta exports have indicated a need for health and safety-related water supplies of 510,000 acre-feet. The water projects have already pumped over 739,000 acre-feet in 2015, about 82 percent of which was stored as of March 21 at San Luis Reservoir, west of Los Banos. It is not yet known how much of these exports are for the health and safety purposes of Metropolitan Water District customers, who will be making sacrifices as a result of water rationing and participating heroically in personal responsibility campaigns, and how much is to satisfy industrial mega-farm demand south of the Delta.

“There is not enough water in the watershed to satisfy the insatiable demands of big agribusiness growers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and to keep enough surface water in reserve for urban populations,” added Barrigan-Parrilla.

Drastic consequences on fisheries
Restore the Delta Policy Analyst Tim Stroshane said, “The proposed drought barriers project for the Delta will allow the Department of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation to continue managing upstream storage so that the pain of the drought will be borne by Delta residents and ecosystems, and not by Delta water takers. The barriers will have drastic consequence on fisheries, commercial and recreational fishing economies, various Delta farming communities, recreation economies, all so that water will be made available beyond what is needed for health and human safety, but for what purposes we don’t know.”

“California must save water first through agriculture reductions on polluted drainage impaired land, which uses 2/3 of the Delta’s exported water. To protect urban areas, we need a Marshall plan to implement conservation, groundwater storage, storm water capture, cisterns, recycling and effective drought planning. Estimates show that it will cost tens of billions to repair urban water systems alone.” Barrigan-Parrilla said.

In the last 28 water years (since the beginning of the 1987-92 drought), wet and above normal years have occurred just 11 times (39 percent of the time) in both the San Joaquin and Sacramento River basins. This means that the premise of “emergency” drought barriers is false. “Emergency” connotes an event that is short-lived and infrequent, if it occurs at all. But below normal to critical water years occur more than half the time (as they have for almost the last three decades). “Emergency” becomes meaningless.

“The Department of Water Resources plans to install and remove barriers simultaneously with when juvenile salmon would be attempting to rear in, or emigrate through, the Delta before they leave for the Pacific Ocean. The most invasive and disruptive activities associated with the barriers proposal occur at critically sensitive times in the life histories of these most magnificent and vulnerable listed species,” Stroshane added.

Waters upstream and downstream of the barriers within the Delta will stagnate. When the dilution action of flows is greatly reduced during summer heat, water temperatures increase, salinity is projected to increase, and pollutant and contaminant concentrations will increase as well.

Delta smelt are likely to face extinction
With the drought barriers, Delta smelt are likely to face extinction this year, with barriers installed to limit flow. And the Delta itself will be become an even less hospitable place for the vulnerable fish species that remain.

“Whether it’s the barriers or the Delta tunnels, it is apparent how little Governor Brown cares for the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary. He has not insisted on the fallowing of fields during the drought by junior water rights holders. He is pushing Delta smelt to extinction, setting up our salmon fisheries for failure, and sacrificing sustainable six-generation Delta farms for almonds, fracking, and speculative desert development,” concluded Barrigan-Parrilla.

Restore the Delta is a 20,000-member grassroots organization committed to making the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta fishable, swimmable, drinkable, and farmable to benefit all of California. Restore the Delta works to improve water quality so that fisheries and farming can thrive together again in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. www.restorethedelta.org


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