A salmon makes its way up a fish ladder at Nimbus Hatchery in Rancho Cordova. (Hector Amezcua/ Sacramento Bee, 2013)

March Water Updates

for the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary
In this newsletter:
  • Who is Benefiting from El Niño?
  • Drought Legislation (SB 2533)
  • Current Sierra Snowpack
  • Water Allocations for State and Federal Projects
  • Fish Counts
  • In Other News:
  • Westlands “Enron Accounting” Scandal
  • MWD purchase of Delta islands
Who is Benefiting from El Niño?

Last week, Senator Feinstein and California House Republicans sent letters to President Obama, calling for increased pumping from the Delta to take advantage of El Niño storms. These letters create the impression that Delta water deliveries have been choked by environmental restrictions for fish. Yet in February, 86% of the San Joaquin River was diverted before it even reached the Delta, and only one-third of all the water upstream (including the Sacramento River) was allowed to flow out of the Delta and into the Bay. In fact, according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle last week, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is already operating the pumps at a higher rate than the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended for the protection of endangered fish.
As Saturday’s editorial by the San Francisco Chronicle emphasized, this is our last chance to save the struggling Delta smelt and winter-run Chinook salmon. The past years of drought—and decisions to maximize water exports during those years—have driven these species to the brink of extinction. President Obama needs to understand that the decisions made now may well be irreversible.
Senator Feinstein’s letter:
Drought Legislation (SB 2533)
In her effort to alleviate some of the impacts from the current drought, Senator Feinstein’s bill has caused contention between proponents and environmentalists.  Opinions aside, Californians are using more water than nature would produce without a drought.

Feinstein’s bill would change Delta cross-channel gate operations in order to maximize pumping.  This would impact federally protected juvenile salmon, diverting their path toward the Delta pumps.  The loss of this species would also impact the fishing industry and other businesses that rely on this natural resource, as well as the Endangered Species Act.  This concern has been raised previously in hearings last fall.

Another contested provision to this bill would raise Shasta Dam.  This action would not only harm salmon, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but would also flood sacred cultural sites of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe.
Benefits of this bill would be the implementation of projects integrating water management, recycling, habitat restoration and improved efficiency in agricultural and urban water use as well as water supplies for wildlife refuges.
Current Sierra Snowpack
The month of March has been dubbed ‘Miracle March’ for the uncharacteristic amount of rain experienced in a drought.  The result has been an increase in snowpack depth in the Sierras.  As of Friday, March 25, the percent of normal for the North was at 100%, Central was at 91% and the South was at 73%.  The state overall was at 88%.
Water Allocations for State and Federal Projects
Due to the steady rain this month, reservoirs at Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville are above historic levels and the season is experiencing near average conditions.  Though not all reservoirs have reached these levels, the CA Department of Water Resources (DWR) has decided to increase water allocations.  In December the delivery estimate was 10%, in January, 15%, and in February, 30%.  Now with the change in weather, the latest announcement for March is a 45% allocation.

After two consecutive years of 0% allocation, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced it will increase its delivery to 30%.  Steve Ottemoeller, Water Resources Manager for Friant Water Authority, followed this by saying he is optimistic that allocations could increase to as much as 75-80% by the end of the year.
Fish Counts
The counts for the endangered Delta smelt were the lowest on record for January and February.  This indicator species had a count of only seven in two trawls.
The fall-run Chinook salmon season is also experiencing low estimates.  The Pacific Fisheries Management Council determines the count to be 299,600 in the ocean which was twice that number a year ago.  In Klamath River the estimate is at 142,200, lower than last year’s number of 423,800.  A combination of the drought providing shallow water levels and higher temperatures has contributed to inadequate habitat for salmon.  This species requires temperatures of 56 degrees or colder in the water.  Without this environment salmon eggs may not survive.  This situation will definitely impact the Salmon Fishery which relies so heavily on this run and experienced a closure as recently as the 2008-2009 season.

In Other News...

Westlands “Enron Accounting” Scandal
MWD purchase of Delta islands
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