Federal government cuts water supply to farms

On January 1 the federal National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) instituted a management action that reduces water deliveries to 25 million Californians and millions of acres of struggling drought impacted farmland. All of this is done in the name of protecting salmon. But fish don’t have calendars. Regrettably, NMFS continues to use a robotic calendar-based approach to fish management despite ongoing real-time monitoring and sampling triggers that would more accurately gauge the protection needs for fish.

Real-time fish monitoring ignored

State fishery managers recently used such real-time techniques to protect Delta smelt. Why aren’t their federal counterparts using the same smart approach toward species protection? It’s not as though the federal biologists aren’t aware of real-time fishery management. In its December 30 regulatory announcement NMFS stated, “NMFS has discussed utilizing a real-time monitoring based approach with Reclamation and other parties, and remains open to developing such monitoring based real-time triggers for next year.”

Terrific. Another year will go by and farms will continue to be denied water that could legally be delivered while still protecting fish under the flexibility that environmental water managers have.

Massive food production opportunity lost

In just 22 days from December 15 to January 5 California’s water supply has lost 252,748 acre-feet of water due to Endangered Species Act-related pumping restrictions. That water could have irrigated over 84,000 acres of food-producing farmland. Because roughly half of the nation’s fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables come from California, production losses here are significant on a national scale. How much food? Here are a few individual examples of what that water could have grown in California with three acre-feet per acre. Many farmers use less.

7.4 billion servings of broccoli (3 oz.)IMG_4584

10.8 billion servings of avocados (1.1 oz.)

10.9 billion servings of bell peppers (5.3 oz.)

11.1 billion servings of leaf lettuce (3 oz.)

24.2 billion servings of celery (3.9 oz.)

(Serving size based on FDA nutrition guidelines)

Increased dependence on foreign food

Meanwhile our dependence on foreign food production continues to escalate. Every unplanted acre here at home opens the door for a producer in another country to plant and grow a crop under conditions that have long been illegal here in California – e.g. poorer labor standards, clear cutting of land, unchecked pesticide use, etc.

Let’s hope NMFS provided all of the salmon in the Delta with a new calendar for Christmas so they know when to start their migration. This situation begs another question of course, if NMFS isn’t going to actually use the real-time capabilities that have been developed at significant cost, why bother?

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