Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration has signaled its desire to go ahead with rigid fish flow increases despite the deepening drought and hydrology changes in precipitating patterns the state’s own experts are anticipating.
The state last week abruptly broke off negotiations with agencies representing water users on the Stanislaus, Merced, and Tuolumne watersheds regarding its desire to implement new fish flows that will essentially reduce water available for urban and farm uses.
The agencies, including South San Joaquin and Oakdale irrigation districts, have conducted research and can cite other instances on the Pacific Coast where addressing non-native fish predators and river restoration added into the mix is significantly more effective than further increasing fish flows during critical migratory periods in the spring.
There is a 2018 state study that delineates what increased water flows will do for the threatened Chinook salmon population on the three rivers and what it will cost urban and ag users
Sacramento concedes increased water flows may only increase Chinook salmon numbers in the Stanislaus, Merced, and Tuolumne rivers by 1,103 while at the same time delivering devastating blows to the economies of San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties.
The state’s own data says the tradeoff for 1,103 more fish could take 132,000 acres out of farm production, cause a $12.9 billion annual reoccurring loss to the three-county region, eliminate 4,000 jobs, and further imperil the groundwater by forcing cities and farms to pump 1.57 million acre feet — the equivalent of just over three-fifths of New Melones Reservoir when it is filled to the
SSJID and other water agencies in the Lower San Joaquin River tributaries believe a holistic approach that takes into account all factors such as water flows, non-native predators, and habitat is the best solution as opposed to a myopic one that relies 100 percent on jacking up water releases.
The state’s move promoted a sharp rebuke from Congressman Josh Harder whose constituency will be hit hard by shifting more water to fish flows along the Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers.
“It’s disappointing to see the Newsom Administration walking away from our Voluntary Settlement Negotiations and picking a courtroom over a real conservation,” Harder said. ‘“I urge the Newsom Administration to come back to the table and work with our local partners on a water management plan that will help our state as well as our farmers, families, and water agencies. If the Newsom Administration refuses to negotiate with the Central Valley, once again green lawns in Beverly Hills will be prioritized ahead of growing the food that feeds our nation.”
Harder’s remark references the reality once increased releases are made from New Melones and other regional dams in the Lower San Joaquin River it indirectly benefits urban users in the south state by reducing the need for releases from north of Delta storage facilities.
That’s because while the fish flows are aimed at salmon movements in the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers the additional water flowing into the Delta will allow flows mandated from the Sacramento Valley watershed needed to assure a set level of water quality in the Delta to be scaled back.
By taking water from urban and ag users served by the three rivers, it allows dams that serve the massive Metropolitan Water District and even some Bay Area cities to keep more water in storage needed for their use.
And while the state and/or federal government contends the water they plan on releasing for pumped up fish flows isn’t targeting water the SSJID and other agencies with historic legal rights that are adjudicated, once water levels in storage facilities drop to critical levels and there is a need to meet minimum river flows they only have one option to prevent an ecological disaster which is outright seizing local water.
The SSJID and OID have commissioned extensive studies on the Stanislaus River by Fishbio, a scientific research firm with a global resume. The two agencies have been conducting research for more than a decade to develop data regarding everything from water temperature and water flows as well as predators on the impact in threatened salmon on the Stanislaus. The state hasn’t done any such studies on the Stanislaus or the Merced and Tuolumne.
OID has gone a step further and invested more than $1 million on enhancing spawning areas for salmon along the Stanislaus.