By Tim Hunt
California's permanent drought is getting worseUploaded: Jul 12, 2018
The state water board dropped the proverbial other shoe last week when it announced plans to significantly increase water flows through the San Joaquin Delta, meaning much less water will be available for export to serve cities and agriculture including the Tri-Valley.
Earlier the board announced requirements for year-round water rationing with a goal of 50 gallons per day per person—permanent drought.
The first set of regulations is aimed at the Southern Delta when the San Joaquin River enters the Delta. Water board chair Felicia Marcus announced it as a plan to prevent an ecological crisis—as if there isn’t one already happening. The population of the Delta Smelt, a tiny fish with a one-year life span, has plummeted so few are found in the annual trawls.
Naturally, representatives of the farmers bellowed, while representatives of salmon fisherman cheered.
The plan targets the San Joaquin River and three of its tributaries, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced Rivers to improve salmon runs on the tributaries. Current standards, set in 1995, allow for up to 80 percent of the water to be diverted for agricultural and other uses. The new regulations would double unimpeded flows to 40 percent with range of 30 to 50 percent during the key months of February to June with higher natural flows from winter rains and melting snowfall.
It’s worth noting that flows through the Delta are completely un-natural. Water from the Sacramento River is diverted south of Sacramento through the Cross-Delta Channel, so it can flow south to the pumps near Tracy. The pumps are so powerful that the flow rates are determined by how fast two branches of the San Joaquin River are flowing BACKWARD. Yes, backward. Those flows can be between 5,000 and 7,500 cubic-feet per second—that’s moving lots of water.
That’s why the original plan for the State Water Project including the Peripheral Canal that was voted down in state-wide referendum in 1982. The governor’s California WaterFix, with one or two tunnels under the Delta, has a similar goal---not using the Delta to transfer water so the natural east-west flows are restored.
Ironically, if the board, which is accepting public comment now headed toward a decision in August, moves ahead, it could add some momentum for the tunnel(s).
The South Delta plan is Phase 1, with the North Delta plan to deal with the Sacramento River pending. Both plans likely will affect water agencies that divert rivers above the Delta such as the Hetch-Hetchy system that serves San Francisco, Peninsula and other communities as well as the East Bay Municipal Utility District that serves many Alameda and Contra Costa county cities.
Phase 2 focuses on the Sacramento River and its tributaries, Delta eastside tributaries (including the Calaveras, Cosumnes, and Mokelumne (EBMUD’s supply) rivers, Delta outflows, and interior Delta flows. The anticipated staff report will recommend unimpaired flows between 45-65 percent, again a major reduction in flows. There also will be a metric on cold water flows to help fall-run salmon. Current diversions, during peak winter and spring periods, are more than half of total flows.
The limits on residential, industrial and agricultural water use first announced set the stage for the Delta flow announcements. Although agriculture uses 80 percent of the state’s developed water, the restrictions will be felt by every household. It will be particularly challenging for the Livermore Valley’s wholesale agency, Zone 7, which relies on the Delta for 80 percent of its water supply.
The new restrictions may make other water sources, that are all more expensive that Delta water—even with the tunnels figured in—more palatable moving forward.
One thing is clear: water will cost more.