Science academy to review stresses affecting the delta

Issue Date: October 7, 2009
Kate Campbell

California's water crisis received top billing in Washington, D.C., last week at a public meeting hosted by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The event began with an announcement by the Interior and Commerce departments that they have asked the National Academy of Sciences to conduct further analysis of factors affecting the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

In a prepared statement, the Obama administration expressed confidence in the soundness of the science behind two recent federal biological opinions related to delta smelt and salmon. The biological opinions have affected water deliveries from the delta. But the agencies have asked the academy to consider other stresses to delta fish populations and the ecosystem.

A report, including alternative approaches to species protection beyond shutting down the water transfer pumps, is expected within six months.

Biological opinions for delta smelt and salmon have affected management of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, especially in restricting movement of water from the delta to water users to the south.

Speakers at the hearing included farmers, fishermen, environmentalists, members of the California congressional delegation, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Lester Snow, California Department of Water Resources director.

With farmers and ranchers reeling from the three-year drought and shutdown of the water transfer pumps, California Farm Bureau Federation President Doug Mosebar told Interior officials at the Washington meeting, "We can all agree the status quo in the delta is not a choice. We need solutions for water storage, conveyance and conservation."

Mosebar said Farm Bureau supports the request for a National Academy of Sciences review to provide a more comprehensive analysis of the many factors affecting the health of the delta and added, "We thank Senator Feinstein for her leadership in initiating this review."

In addition to the independent review by the academy, a newly formed entity will coordinate with state agencies and stakeholders to develop by Dec. 15 a work plan for short-term actions.

Separately, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar sent a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and leaders of the California Legislature, urging them to convene a special legislative session to "ensure prompt enactment of a package of bills" related to addressing the current crisis and providing the framework for long-term water supply reliability improvements.

"Farm Bureau welcomes the suggestion of a special legislative session," said CFBF Director of Water Resources Danny Merkley, "assuming that it is conducted with the genuine intent of producing a comprehensive solution to California's long-term water needs. That means new storage facilities, improved conveyance infrastructure, protections for area-of-origin water rights and environmental improvements. We urgently need solutions to our water problems, but more than that, we need the right solutions for California's long-term water needs."

In written remarks submitted to the federal agencies, Mosebar stressed, "Without reliable water supplies, we risk eroding our ability to grow food for our nation and the world. Farm water shortages in California have thus far resulted in $1.5 billion to $2.2 billion in lost revenue; half a million fertile acres lie idle; 40,000 jobs have been lost; and we are seeing unemployment rates of 40 percent or higher in some rural communities."

"We need action and before this spring," Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, told the meeting. "We need you to act with a sense of urgency. There's a fire burning in the Central Valley and it's time to put that fire out."

Those who spoke at the hearing agreed that water supply reliability and restoration of the delta cannot wait any longer. They also expressed disappointment over what they called federal "lip service" and overall inaction.

Mosebar told officials that Farm Bureau supports prompt approval and development of the Two Gates project in the delta to avoid shutting off the pumps during the rainy season and periods of optimum water flow. He said Farm Bureau also supports development of an "intertie" canal to link state and federal water projects to increase conveyance flexibility between the two government water delivery systems.

In addition, Farm Bureau supports passage of legislation for a temporary waiver of the Endangered Species Act for the duration of the current drought. At the same time, Mosebar said Farm Bureau is calling for a firm commitment and timetable from the state and federal governments to pursue meaningful water development by advancing studies and early engineering work for projects such as the Sites Reservoir, enlargement of Los Vaqueros Reservoir and development of additional water storage above the San Joaquin River.

He pointed out that more than half of the state's population lives within 50 miles of the coast, and that desalination is an option that deserves more attention. At the same time, he said farmers in the San Joaquin Valley alone have invested more than $1.5 billion in improved irrigation technology in the last six years.

"We're calling on government to match the kinds of investment in conservation and water-use efficiency technology that already have been made by California agriculture, by building projects that assure reliable water supplies for the valley and for the rest of the state," Mosebar said.

Mosebar said agriculture in California and in the United States must avoid finding the tipping point "where we've lost enough farmers that we have to depend on foreign food for our domestic needs. It's serious. It's about food security for the nation. We need water."

Obama administration officials listening at the meeting, along with Interior Secretary Salazar, included Nancy Sutley, chair of the President's Council on Environmental Quality, and Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes.

Spending bill includes money for delta projects

A federal water and energy appropriations bill wading through Congress this week promises $10 million for critical water supply projects under the California Bay-Delta Restoration Program, such as the Two Gates and intertie projects.

As the House of Representatives approved the appropriations bill last week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said publicly she's considering introducing a comprehensive delta bill in the spring.

Funding for short-term water projects in the current appropriations bill will help, said California Farm Bureau Federation President Doug Mosebar. In a September letter to congressional leaders urging approval of amendments in House Resolution 3183, he said the amendments support projects that will provide greater flexibility to California's water supply delivery system.

"Besides water quantity, one of our primary challenges is getting water where it's needed, when it's needed," Mosebar said. "Provisions in the bill allow water to be transferred between counties, and from Friant Division contractors to south-of-delta Central Valley Project contractors."

The bill also includes a provision that requires the secretary of Interior to implement immediately a recovery plan for the endangered giant garter snake. This overarching plan would protect the species while allowing important Northern California water transfers to proceed without requiring multiple, redundant paperwork.

The bill, finalized by a House-Senate Conference Committee, is expected to clear the Senate this week and move on to President Obama for signature.

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.