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More water flow needed for fish, finds delta report

Critics say study too narrow

POSTED August 3, 2010 10:52 p.m.
More water should be allowed to flow through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and into the San Francisco Bay, according to a State Water Board report which was unanimously approved Tuesday.The 180-page informational report, required by the 2009 Delta Reform Act and not directly tied to any legislative action, establishes the volume, quality and timing of water flow needed to protect fish and wildlife.“For the first time, the board has come forth with explicit estimates on flows needed to protect the estuary and the results are not surprising,” said Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. “The increased flow recommendations are consistent with the vast majority of testimony by scientists, biologists and hydrologists during the recent hearing and with the recommendations of resource agencies and scientists during previous evidentiary hearings over the last 30 years.”The report finds that under current conditions delta fish require 75 percent of unimpaired natural delta flows between January and June, compared to the 30 percent of such flows they currently receive in drier years. The report also cites a need for 75 percent of Sacramento River inflow, from November to June – compared to 50 percent on average from April through June – and 60 percent of San Joaquin River inflow from February for June – compared to approximately 20 percent in drier years to almost 50 percent in wetter years.The flow criteria were developed based on information gathered during a three-day public informational meeting held in March, where technical experts and the Department of Fish and Game delivered testimony.But despite the expert advice, the report remains flawed because it answers a narrow question, according to critics like Laura King Moon, assistant general manager of State Water Contractors, a nonprofit representing State Water Project member agencies.The document’s scope is concerned only with flows needed to maintain fish populations, not taking into account human or flood control safety needs. Additionally, the report analyzes flows as the sole solution to declining fish populations, not fully accounting for the deleterious effects of other habitat issues.“They are premised on the erroneous assumption that all the ecosystem’s deficiencies can be addressed through flow alone,” Moon said. “Moreover, there is no attempt to balance ecosystem with human water supply needs. … It must be recognized that, if the draft recommendations were adopted, it would empty our reservoirs of cool waters required for salmon migration and cripple our state’s water supply.”The report does note a need to improve habitats as well as flows, specifically addressing issues such as nutrient composition, channelization, habitat, invasive species, and water quality. That sort of habitat repair could drastically cut down on flow needs, according to the report, but was beyond the document’s scope for detailed analysis.The Draft Report is available online at http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/bay_delta/deltaflow/docs/draft_report072010.pdf.To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.
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