2013 Water Rights Decision Elevates Water Exports To Priority Over Protection of Salmon and Adequate Supply for Delta Farmers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, September 13, 2013
Contact: Steve Hopcraft 916/457-5546; steve@hopcraft.com; Twitter: @shopcraft; @MrSandHillCrane;
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla 209/479-2053; barbara@restorethedelta.org;
Twitter: @RestoretheDelta

2013 Water Rights Decision Elevates Water Exports To Priority Over Protection of Salmon and Adequate Supply for Delta Farmers

Water Right Decision 1641 (D-1641) of the State Water Resources Control Board contains water flow and quality standards that are supposed to protect Delta users and fisheries from excessive water project exports. Additionally water right orders established temperature requirements on the Sacramento River to protect salmon spawning.

This year, the staff of the Water Board agreed to take no enforcement action for violation of the water quality standards if the water projects operated through August 15 as if this were a critically dry year rather than simply a dry year. They additionally allowed the temperature requirement for salmon to be moved from Red Bluff upstream to Anderson. These changes were made at the request of the State Water Project and Central Valley Project operators and the state and federal fish agencies, for the stated purpose of saving cold water in Lake Shasta for salmon. These actions impacted agricultural water quality in the western and central Delta and salmon on the Sacramento River.

No mention was made of the need to reduce exports from the Delta in lieu of violating the standards or changing the temperature requirements. During the period of violation of the water quality standards, the exports from the Delta continued at quantities substantially in excess of the quantity of cold water claimed to have been saved in Shasta. For the period of May through August exports exceeded 1.4 million-acre feet.

It appears that the water gained by violation of the standards was exported.

Said Dante John Nomellini, Manager and Co-Counsel of the Central Delta Water Agency, “Compliance with the D-1641 agricultural standards for the Delta is a condition of the rights for the State and Federal contractors to divert water for export.”

The actions of the staff of the Water Board have elevated exports to a priority over protection of salmon, salinity control and adequate supplies for the Delta.

Nomellini contends, “There is an obvious need for the Water Board to exercise its public trust responsibility to carefully review the impact of the Central Valley Project operations on the salmon spawning in the Sacramento River including in particular the exports from the Delta. . . . The trust agencies with direct responsibility for protection of fish have in the past failed or been unable to assert protection of the public trust.”

The Water Board staff required an accounting of operations under the change of water year classification by August 22. Nomellini notes that this accounting reports 55,000 acre feet conserved in storage due to conservation actions taken during early June to June 15, 2013 but failed to show how much water was gained by violating the agricultural standards in the Delta from late April through June 15, 2013 and how much of that water was really saved as cold water storage and not exported.

The actions this year continue what appears to be a pattern and practice of violating the water quality standards to facilitate the export of water that is needed in the Delta and other areas of origin. By law, the State and federal water projects should export only water that is surplus to Delta and upstream needs. However, that law has routinely been circumvented.

Said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, “It is clear that assurances about water quality and quantity for people in the Delta and for fisheries are not being enforced now. So why should we assume that the Peripheral Tunnels will be operated any better?”


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