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Report backs reduced water for ag

Fiorini appointed to Delta Stewardship Council

POSTED March 19, 2010 11:20 p.m.
A much-anticipated National Academy of Sciences report, released Friday, upheld biological opinions requiring reduced pumping of delta water for farming purposes in order to protect delta smelt and salmon.
Farmers, especially those reliant on water-starved Central Valley Project water, had hoped the NAS report would side with agriculture in determining that other factors have contributed to the decline in smelt and salmon populations. Such a decision could have freed additional water for irrigation.
But while reduced diversion of delta water was upheld as a “scientifically justified” means to improve smelt and salmon populations, the science which determines when water can and cannot be pumped south is less well-supported by scientific analyses, the report says.
“I am encouraged by the initial review that has been done by the National Academy of Sciences,” said U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA). “This study highlights areas where, with careful monitoring, there may be flexibility in how we manage water supplies for the benefit of agricultural communities, fishermen and all stakeholders. I look forward to hearing more from the NAS as they complete their investigation.”
The NAS review of 2008 and 2009 Fish and Wildlife Services and the National Marine Fisheries Service Biological Opinions came at the bequest of Congress and the Interior Department.
Friday’s report found that limiting the amount of water pumped from the delta to reduce reverse flows in the Old and Middle rivers is justified, as high reverse flows in winter, caused by pumping, likely adversely affect smelt. The science on when to limit reverse flows, or what benefits fish receive by reducing reverse flows, are less justified, the report said, and more research is needed.
The report also questioned the usefulness of another metric which determines when pumping is allowed, a measurement of the salinity of water in the San Francisco Bay, and argued for adaptive management. The need for the creation or restoration of 8,000 acres of intertidal and subtidal delta habitat, called for in the FWS opinion, was considered to have a weak scientific justification as the relationship between tidal habitats and food availability for smelt is “poorly understood.”
The 64-page report also acknowledges that the use of pumps, which divert water from the delta south to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California, were not the only causal factors in fish count declines, but noted the NAS did not have time to complete full review of those other causes. A more detailed report on other fish stressors is due next year, the second part of a two-year review of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
That second report is much anticipated by the Turlock Irrigation District, which is not directly effected by the biological opinions but is required to release water into the Tuolumne River to allow for salmon runs.
“We watch it very closely because we feel like flow is not the only factor going on in the delta,” said Jeff Barton TID AGM Civil Engineering & Water Operations. “… Our hope would be that it supports our contention that the focus on the health of the Tuolumne River, and ultimately the Stanislaus River and the delta, should not be just on flow.”
Next year’s report is expected to examine in depth the role of other stressors, including contaminants in the delta, structures that block fishes from access to their spawning habitat, and fish species that prey on smelt and salmon.
In the meantime, Turlock will have a voice in the future of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta as resident Randy Fiorini, former TID Division 5 director, past president of the Association of California Water Agencies, and managing partner of Fiorini Ranch, was named to the seven-member Delta Stewardship Council by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday.
The council is tasked with developing a plan that both restores the delta and improves water system reliability. Fiorini will serve on the council for the next four years, should the Senate confirm him, earning $40,669.
“This council will work collaboratively to develop a plan to achieve the co-equal goals of restoring the Delta ecosystem and ensuring water supply reliability,” Schwarzenegger said. “Each of these individuals possesses the qualities, experiences and unique perspectives that are necessary to help the council meet these goals and implement the most comprehensive effort in decades to save and restore California's Delta and secure our water supply for the future.”
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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