An environmental group, highly critical of a federal agency’s newly proposed recommendations to protect endangered species in the Delta, states that they would seriously harm those species and their habitat.
The new recommendations, released Oct. 22 by the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, are to be used as guidelines for operating the federal pumping plant in the Delta. The state water project operates under the California Endangered Species rules, but will likely push for the same relaxation of standards, said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, spokeswoman for Restore the Delta (RTD). The non-profit group is headquartered in Stockton, but includes members all over the state, including the Tri-Valley.
For instance, the proposals would affect the pathways of salmon migration to their traditional headwaters, where nature has programmed them to reproduce, she said. The report reflects changes made by the Trump Administration’s decision to replace a team of biologists who prepared previous reports.
If adopted, the recommendations would determine the long-term operations of the State Water Project (SWP), which includes the Tri-Valley cities. They also would help set the allowed levels for water exports from the Delta to the Central Valley and to Southern California.
The winners in that scenario would be Central Valley farmers. Barrigan-Parrilla said the farmers are really agribusinesses — big corporate farmers, who might eventually change the cropland into housing.
According to Barrigan-Parrilla, there is nothing wrong with building more housing, but it should be sustainable. From an ecological standpoint, that includes a smaller urban footprint, compared to how much land “McMansions” occupy, and also should have high energy efficiency.
Barrigan-Parrilla said the new recommendations come from Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. In 2010, Bernhardt, an attorney, argued the case for farmers against a decision by then-federal Judge Oliver Wanger, which protected the Delta’s endangered species. Wanger’s decision said that economics could not be used to supersede Endangered Species Act protections.
The impact of the Wanger decision affects the State Water Project, which serves Southern California and the Tri-Valley. The SWP currently must respect such protected species as the Delta smelt, which is present in the Delta near SWP pumps in the summer and fall.
The new recommendations would ignore the calendar and use science-based observations about current conditions near the pumps. Zone 7 Water Agency General Manager Valerie Pryor said that in the past 10 years, there have been advances in technology that have yielded accurate data.
Asked about what the recommendations would mean for Zone 7, Pryor said that water supply contractors don’t have enough information to figure out the implications yet. But on the face of it, getting real time data about fish in the vicinity of the pumps could be used to turn off pumping as soon as possible, thus sparing the fish.
Theoretically, that could still save species, but also help water retailers meet customer demands, Pryor said.
Meanwhile, Barrigan-Parrilla is hoping that Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has challenged Trump on other environmental issues, such as global warming, will stand up to the president again. “We are calling on the Newsom Administration to help fight these faux-science based opinions and to stop the Trump plan to increase water deliveries to big water districts. These rollbacks cannot become part of the Newsom Administration’s ‘voluntary agreement’ process for the Delta,” Barrigan-Parrilla said.
She is done with lobbying lower state officials. “The buck stops with Newsom. It’s up to him to make sure agencies do the best for California,” Barrigan-Parrilla concluded.