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Minimum fish flow protections cause of concern for TID
fields drought
In this May 1, 2014 photo, irrigation water runs along the dried-up ditch between the rice farms to provide water for the rice fields in Richvale, Calif. Irrigation districts are worried new water rules for fish could lessen the allotments. - photo by AP Photo/Jae C. Hong


 In an effort to continue protecting threatened salmon and steelhead populations in three Sacramento River tributaries, the State Water Resources Control Board voted on Tuesday to re-adopt 2014 emergency regulation that will continue the curtailment of water diversions if minimum flows necessary for both species are not met.

The three tributaries in question are Mill Creek, Deer Creek, and Antelope Creek, all of which first became subject to drought emergency minimum fish flow protections last year in hopes of protecting and recovering migrating Chinook salmon and Central Valley steelhead through the drought.

To back up this decision, both the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Marine Fisheries Service have come to the conclusion that these three creeks serve as the best remaining and accessible habitat for the two species, which are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. Chinook salmon also appear as threatened under the state Endangered Species Act.

With the minimum fish flow protections that were established last year, a “belly scraping” amount of water is ensured to assist both fish species during critical passage periods, helping them find refuge and eventually spawn upstream.

Although this year’s plan will share many similarities with the 2014 emergency regulation, the SWRCB added various clarifications and modifications on Tuesday as part of their re-adoption.

This year’s emergency regulation will see no changes to minimum flow requirements for Mill Creek and Deer Creek, however the proposed minimum flow requirements for juvenile spring-run Chinook salmon and Central Valley steelhead will decrease in Antelope Creek.

Although flow periods for this year’s regulation are shorter this year, one flow period was extended for the initiation of juvenile spring-run Chinook and steelhead minimum flow in Mill Creek and Deer Creek. Instead of beginning on Nov.1, regulation calls to begin on Oct. 15.

Despite having no direct effect on Turlock Irrigation District customers, water resources analyst Herb Smart describes the rationale behind SWRCB’s decision as “concerning.”

“It is concerning for us and those around us, including partner irrigation districts,” said Smart.

According to Smart, the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority, which includes TID, Oakdale Irrigation District, Modesto Irrigation District, South San Joaquin Irrigation District, Merced Irrigation District, and the City and County of San Francisco, sent a letter last week to the SWRCB regarding the apprehension.

In their letter, members of the SJTA questioned the SWRCB’s decision, citing that the SWRCB is required to make findings that justify continuing emergency relations in 2015, analyze the impact of last year’s implementation on both the fish and water users, and make findings that apply specifically to the new provisions.

“The State Water Board has not made these findings and therefore cannot lawfully adopt the Proposed Regulations,” the letter states.

Other issues that were brought to light in the letter include the beliefs that these proposed regulations cannot be authorized by Water Code 1058.5, violate due process, amount to a regulatory taking, and violate the rules of water right priority.

 “From the District’s perspective, it is our understanding that the SWRCB took action on Tuesday for those creeks because of the specific fish populations that travel up and down those specific creeks,” said Smart. “We at TID and others with the SJTA are hopeful that this rationale does not get extended to other streams across the state.”