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State, federal agencies seek to boost water for ag

Tim Hearden

Capital Press

California and U.S. water agencies say they're working together to make more water available for agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley. An order was issued March 18 to provide more flexibility in pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Capital Press

SACRAMENTO — State and federal water agencies say they’re working together to make as much water as possible available for agriculture south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

As part of this, state Water Resources Control Board executive director Tom Howard issued an order last week that less water be pushed out into the San Francisco Bay for fish so that more can be used for other purposes.

Howard allowed outflows reduced from 11,000 cubic feet per second to at least 7,100 cfs, which fisheries agencies believe wouldn’t necessarily affect fish and wildlife such as the federally protected Delta smelt and Chinook salmon.

The March 18 modification also expands the latitude for which the State Water Project and Central Valley Project may use exported water, the state water board explained in a written update on drought responses.

“Basically the state and federal water projects came to us and asked us to do this,” water board spokesman George Kostyrko said. “They asked us to take some action and within our regulatory powers we did so.”

The move won praise from Republican state Sen. Jim Nielsen of Gerber, Calif., who declared that Californians “can breathe a sigh of relief that food supplies, food prices and jobs may be more secure.”

Nielsen sent a letter earlier this month appealing to Gov. Jerry Brown to reconsider the state’s zero-water allocation to many California farms, noting that the state’s farms and ranches earned a record $44.7 billion for their output in 2001 and that their productivity would be affected by a denial of water.

Specifically, Howard authorized two amendments to a January emergency drought order to eliminate water from the State Water Project to agriculture. In addition to temporarily relaxing environmental regulations for Delta outflows, the official permitted Delta exports for purposes beyond immediate human health and safety needs, Nielsen explained in a news release.

The modification follows a wet February in which 130 percent of normal precipitation fell in the Sacramento River Basin, enabling the state and federal water projects to boost pumping from the Delta to as much as 6,000 cfs for about a week, the water board’s drought update reported.

At other times in February and in early March, the two projects had additional flexibility in the amount of water they could pump from the Delta, and federal and state fish and wildlife agencies made similar changes to export limitations under their jurisdiction, according to the update.

The latest move comes as the state Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation have been gathering data to determine how much water will be needed through the dry months and into next year to maintain salinity control in the Delta, meet health and safety needs and maintain enough water for imperiled fish, the update stated.

If salinity control in the Delta were lost, the water in the Delta would be too salty for any uses, water board chairwoman Felicia Marcus has said.

The agencies’ assessment was expected to be done by the end of this month, and the water projects will update allocation projections to their water contracts on or about April 1, the water board’s update explained.

Online

California drought update: http://test-www.ca.gov/drought/managementactions.html

Sen. Jim Nielsen: http://district4.cssrc.us



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