West Side Again Dried Up By Delta Smelt Protections

West Side Again Dried Up By Delta Smelt Protections

While continuing below normal precipitation is responsible for another below-average initial Central Valley Project supply declaration in the Friant Division, many western San Joaquin Valley CVP users are back to getting dried up by a two-inch-long fish, the Delta smelt.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s initial water supply declaration for south of Delta CVP contractors and users along the West Side is for just 25% of contracted amounts. Among those affected are Cross Valley Canal exchange contractors along the Friant-Kern Canal.

An exception, however, is the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors group, which holds historic river water rights. The Exchange Contractors will receive 100% of their substitute supply of water exported from the Delta.

That exchange makes possible the Friant Division’s CVP diversions at Friant Dam. Another exception involves CVP municipal contractors on the West Side. They were allocated 75%.


For all other CVP and State Water Project contractors served by the Delta-Mendota Canal and California Aqueduct – both of which are supplied with Northern California water pumped and exported from the Delta northwest of Tracy – the outlook is grim.

Well over 800,000 acre-feet of water has been denied to the federal and state projects because of severe limits imposed on Delta pumping in order to protect the tiny Delta smelt, a threatened species listed under the Endangered Species Act.  Restrictions were imposed because 230 fish were taken in the two Delta pumping plants. U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials say just 362 smelt can be legally killed annually by the pumps.

“In other words, 800,000 acre-feet of water has been allowed to flow out to the ocean during a drought year because of a few hundred fish,” said Ronald D. Jacobsma, Friant Water Authority General Manager.


Thomas Birmingham, General Manager of the Westlands Water District in western Fresno and Kings counties, was livid. He said after the Bureau made its February 25 announcement that Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources have been consistently hindered by restrictions imposed under a 2008 federal biological opinion protecting Delta smelt.

“Over the last 60 days, the CVP has lost over 300,000 acre feet because of the limitations the federal government has placed on our supplies,” said Birmingham. “Together the CVP and SWP have lost more than 815,000 acre-feet. This precious water cannot be replaced regardless of what happens in terms of precipitation and runoff for the rest of this year.”

He said CVP water losses are likely to result in 200,000 acres of land being fallowed with a loss of 2,400 jobs and a regional economic loss that could reach more than $1.5 billion.

Birmingham charged that “when federal scientists conduct studies on the Delta smelt they are permitted to kill thousands of smelt. But the water supply of large areas of the state is shut down because the projects have taken 230 fish. This insanity has to stop.”


Bureau officials painted a somewhat different picture, one darkened by a record lack of precipitation across much of Northern California, source of State Water Project and West Side CVP supplies that find their way through the Delta to the pumping plants. Those plants provide water to 26 million Californians and well over three million irrigated acres of farmland.

“While we continue to hope for additional precipitation during the remainder of the rainy season, we are also continuing to work with our federal, state and local partners to improve this year’s supply and to find a comprehensive, long-term solution that will achieve the dual goals of a reliable water supply for California and a healthy Bay-Delta ecosystem that supports the state’s economy,” said David Murillo, director of Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Region.

“Near-record dry weather combined with pumping restrictions to protect Delta smelt are making this a gloomy water supply year,” California Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said in a statement. His agency expects to be able to deliver 40% supplies.


Association of California Water Agencies Executive Director Timothy Quinn called the supply curtailments “further evidence that the infrastructure we rely on to convey water through the Delta is unsustainable.” He said the ongoing Bay Delta Conservation Plan process could resolve the problems with better Delta water conveyance, habitat restoration and other infrastructure improvements.

Quinn said “the wrong regulatory approach” is being used. “The single-species, single-stressor approach has failed to work over the past 25 years and is at odds with achieving the co-equal goals of a more reliable water supply and improved ecosystem health. Events the past few weeks in the Delta once again underscore that the federal government needs to change its approach to implementing the Endangered Species Act.”

Leave a Reply