Elected leaders urge SWRCB to reverse staff decision denying limited water supply increase

In two separate letters submitted February 11, a bipartisan group of State legislative and congressional leaders, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, urged the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to overturn a single staff member’s decision to deny additional water to much of drought parched California.

The letters emphasized that the additional pumping had been approved by five State and federal water and wildlife agencies and cited language from wildlife agencies expressing little or no concern over any potential impacts to threatened or endangered species:

Bipartisan congressional letter to SWRCB

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: “The Service accepts Reclamation’s determination [that the proposed drought actions will result in no additional adverse effects on Delta Smelt or its critical habitat for the months of February and March 2015 beyond those [in] the 2008 BiOp].”

National Marine Fisheries Service said the proposals “were considered in the underlying analysis of the [salmon BiOp], [and are] not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of [the listed species under the salmon BiOp],” nor “exceed levels of take anticipated [under the salmon BiOp].”

California Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed that the proposals are consistent with the California Endangered Species Act and the biological opinions.

Communities are suffering

Also included in the congressional letter were examples of the punishing consequences felt by people in the hardest hit communities, many of whom, “do not even have water for basic necessities like cooking, drinking, and showering, and that some are abandoning their homes and moving out of State.”

State legislative letter
California State legislative letter to SWRCB

• Many Central Valley towns have unemployment rates that are triple or quadruple that of the state average of 7 percent due to significantly reduced employment in the agricultural sector. For example, Mendota has 31.6 percent unemployment, and San Joaquin has 28 percent.

• The total number of food boxes distributed state-wide to community food banks increased nearly ten-fold between May 2014 (46,000 boxes) and January 2015 (425,050 boxes).

• At least 1,760 wells have run dry in the State. In the Porterville area, emergency drinking water and shower stations have been in place for the last seven months because wells to people’s homes have failed.

• Total estimated economic loss is more than $1.7 billion.

• South-of-Delta CVP contractors received zero percent allocation of water last year, and are anticipating the same this year.

• Last year, the Bureau of Reclamation was unable to meet its substitute water supply obligation to the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors and Reclamation gave Friant Water Authority contractors a zero percent allocation – the first time in the 65 year history of the project.

Staff decision contradicts itself

The congressional letter cites contradictory statements by SWRCB Executive Director Tom Howard to justify his denial of additional water supplies. In one instance he wrote, “…it is not clear if [that] monitoring would be adequate to avoid entrainment impacts given the concerns with the accuracy of entrainment estimates …. ” And in the same breath, according to the letter, he denied the export proposal based on an undefined “potential additional risk of entrainment.”

How could Howard assert a “potential” risk of entrainment sufficiently to deny the export adjustment, yet at the same time dismiss the fish agencies’ monitoring as not being sufficiently adequate or accurate?

Read the Congressional letter here.

Read the State legislative letter here.

Congressional signatories

Sen. Dianne Feinstein
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, 23rd District
Rep. Ken Calvert, 42nd District
Rep. Jim Costa, 16th District
Rep. Jeff Denham, 10th District
Rep. Devin Nunes, 22nd District
Rep. David G. Valadao, 21st District

State signatories

Sen. Jean Fuller, 16th District
Sen. Andy Vidak, 14th District
Sen. Anthony Cannella, 12th District
Sen. Tom Berryhill, 8th District
Assm. Jim Patterson, 23rd District
Assm. Devon Mathis, 26th District
Assm. Shannon Grove, 34th District
Assm. Adam Gray, 21st District
Assm. Rudy Salas, 32nd District

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