The devastating California drought officially ended Friday for a handful of federal bureaucrats and the Delta Smelt.
Despite reservoirs up and down the state at record lows to start the weather year, more water started flowing into the Pacific Ocean from reservoirs on Friday instead of into storage at places such as San Luis Reservoir. This was accomplished by slashing water deliveries for farmers and millions of Southern Californians via the California Aqueduct at the pumps near Tracy.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife personnel are worried muddy waters will confuse the Della Smelt causing them to be sucked into pumps to their death. Forget the fact wildlife experts can’t say with any degree of certainty the pumps are the primary reason for the Delta Smelt’s declining population. They do, however, “believe” that is the case.
The federal government conveniently ignores hard research that shows salmon with tracking devices that make their way down the Stanislaus River and into the Delta never make it to the San Francisco Bay. Their signals are often recorded heading in the wrong direction thanks to becoming a meal for bass. Field research by the South San Joaquin Irrigation District and Oakdale irrigation District point to non-native bass of being a major culprit in declining Chinook salmon numbers and not water flows.
The odds are non-native fish aren’t exactly helpful to the Delta Smelt either. Nor or the non-native invasive Asian clams introduced into the Delta in the 1980s that compete for the same food the Delta Smelt does.
The Great Water Gods of D.C. don’t want to consider anything else being culpable for the Delta Smelt’s dwindling numbers except for low water flows and the pumps. It might be a bit different if they had hard data that supports their theory given that recent massive releases of water over the past 10 years haven’t done anything to change the downward projector of the Delta Smelt.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Agency several years ago stated “existing regulatory mechanisms (the releasing of large amounts of water) have not proven adequate” to slow down the Delta Smelt’s decline since being listed in 1993 as an endangered species. Those water releases are based on the 396-page “biological opinion” the agency released that pointed to the pumps as the main culprit in the decline of the Delta Smelt. The agency also noted “we are unable to determine with certainty which threats or combinations of threats are directly responsible.”
So what does the federal government do as we are in four years plus of a severe drought cycle with a chance maybe to have enough rain and snow this winter to avoid widespread disaster to faming and even river ecological systems next summer? Dump more water into the ocean. It’s the moral equivalent of valley homeowners going outside today and hosing down sidewalks and driveways. It’s a wanton waste of water.
Some experts such as University of California at Davis biologist Peter Moyle who has been studying the Delta and the smelt since 1970 notes that clear water – that often occurs in dry conditions — have been shown to make the translucent Delta Smelt easier for predators to spot. That means while more water flowing toward the ocean might reduce muddy conditions around the pumps, it will also make it easier for the Delta Smelt to be seen and eaten.
Moyle, based on part on the March 2015 survey that turned up just six smelt compared to 36 the previous spring, told the Wall Street Journal he expects the smelt to become extinct in the wild within the next few years.
None of this means anything to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Agency that has put the Delta Smelt at the top of the list for water with secondary consumers being farmers, people, and other environmental concerns such as sustaining river habitat.
Rest assured the federal script calls for more water releases to protect Delta Smelt and other fish in the coming months regardless of the hydrologists’ data that shows it will take four or so above average years to break the drought’s back. That doesn’t mention tree rings that indicate mega-droughts of 50 years plus with perhaps one or two back-to-back wet years periodically breaking it up, is the normal weather pattern for the West and that the last 200 years has been abnormally wet.
Add to the fun the fact the State Water Resources Control Board — in the middle of a historic drought — is pushing to increase unimpaired flows on the Stanislaus River from 30 percent between January and June to at least 40 to 50 percent. Similar moves are being made on water flows on the Merced and Tuolumne rivers
It’s a warm-up for the water diversion needed for the Delta — including the smelt — once the Twin Tunnels are in place to allow Sacramento River water to bypass the Delta to reach the California Aqueduct.
No longer will Southern California and corporate farms in the deep southwest San Joaquin Valley share in the pain of arbitrary water flow decisions to save a handful of Delta Smelt. The pain will be felt 100 percent by people and farmers depending on the watersheds of the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers.
The day will come when we aren’t in a drought that you may be limited to how many times you can flush your toilet and watering your lawn once a week because so m much of this region’s water will have been commandeered to address Delta Smelt survival and protecting the Delta from becoming too brackish if the Twin Tunnels are allowed to proceed.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.