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Delta Deception
Pumps have not been “shut off” to protect delta smelt
02 March 2016

Half-truths about California’s water system do not advance an informed public discussion. Communications that lack the proper context, omit details or distort data can lead to the wrong conclusion. The State Water Contractors launched the “Delta Deception” series to fill in the blanks with some ongoing discussions about California water supplies.

The inaugural Delta Deception is from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a recent “Q and A for Delta Smelt.” Here is the question the federal agency poses to itself about the water supply impacts of its smelt biological opinions for water operations, and its answer:

Q: Aren’t farms being fallowed because pumps watering the San Joaquin Valley from the Sacramento River are “shut off” because of the Delta Smelt Biological Opinion?

A: Since the BiOp was put into place in late 2008, the pumps have not been “shut off” to protect Delta smelt. Very infrequently, maintenance work requires the pumps to be shut off completely. Pumping levels are sometimes less than full capacity for a variety of reasons (for example, due to a general lack of suitable water availability, due to salinity concerns, etc.)

Truth be told: The fallowing of farm land has happened due to USFWS restrictions that have slowed down pumping. A complete shutoff of the Central Valley Project or State Water Project is an extremely rare event. To frame the question as whether the biological opinions have completely shut off the water projects is deceiving. This year alone, approximately 500,000 acre-feet of water supplies have not been pumped and stored for use during the summer by cities and farms because of the biological opinions. The lost supplies will further complicate challenges facing many California cities, while farms with fewer alternative supplies will simply choose not to plant the crops that the water would have sustained. Depending on the crop, this is enough water to keep about 200,000 acres of farmland in production. Drought conditions certainly have contributed to fallowed farms in recent years. But for USFWS to suggest that their biological opinions have not “shut off” the CVP and SWP is simply deceiving.