This week the Resources Agency announced that between Nov. 1, 2012 and Jan. 31, 2013, curtailments in pumping to protect endangered fish reduced deliveries from the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project to water districts in the Central Valley, Southern California, and San Francisco Bay Area by about 700,000 acre-feet.
The Agency put a spin on the reductions to buttress the position of the water contractors, to whom so much of the Department of Water Resources owes its existence, funding, and jobs. That 700,000 acre feet, noted the Agency, was “enough to irrigate more than 200,000 acres of farmland or supply 1.4 million households for a year. Even with restricted pumping, the number of Delta smelt salvaged at the federal and state water projects pumps reached 232 by Feb. 6, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that pumping should be curtailed even more significantly.” Etc., etc., “water security.”
Interests such as the Southern California Water Committee and Fresno Congressman Jim Costa got predictably worked up about this and called for the “comprehensive fix” represented by the Peripheral Tunnels plan. Never mind that that “fix” is decades in the future, at best, largely because the proposed tunnels cannot be operated to ensure species recovery as advertised.
Exporters complain that even when pumping is curtailed, fish die. Well yes, they die at the pumps, for which the exporters have never provided proper screens. Exporters argue that new habitat in the Delta will fix everything for fish, even though there is no evidence that habitat has worked even in smaller habitat projects so far. The ideal “fix” for fish – the one that hasn’t been tried in decades – is some approximation of historical flows through the Delta.
What the exporters don’t seem to be able to get their minds around is that Nature itself is not going to guarantee them the amount of water they want in perpetuity, even with the Peripheral Tunnels. In a series of drought years, they could suck the Sacramento River dry and still not get enough to sustain the urban and agricultural demands they have created.
In the long run, water security is going to have to be local. We’d like everybody to understand that BEFORE the Delta and areas of origin are irreversibly damaged.