By Lance Johnson, Madera Irrigation District
Given three years of drought when every acre-foot of water has to be beneficially used every Californian should be mad as hell about the waste and unreasonable use of water that is occurring under the guise of protecting fish. Consider first that the California Water Code, Division 1, Chapter 1, Section 100, requires that waters of the State be beneficially used for the benefit of the people of California. That waste or unreasonable use, or unreasonable method of use, shall be prevented. And that “the use or flow of water in or from any natural stream or water course … shall be limited to the water that shall be reasonably required for the beneficial use to be served”. In other words if a use of water is not providing a demonstrable benefit its use is unreasonable and illegal under State law.
Now consider that from 1990–1997 regulatory actions stripped the Federal Central Valley Project of an average of 1,400,000 Acre-Feet/Year (enough to fill Millerton Lake 3X) of water supplies that were previously deliverable to farms and cities to restore Central Valley fish populations. That occurred through increased delta outflow (water lost to the ocean), higher in-stream flows, increased reservoir carryover storage requirements, and delta pumping cutbacks. Result? Fish populations declined further while average CVP water allocations to farms plummeted 35% and average urban allocations dropped 20%. This period also kicked off spending of $50+ million/Yr by water users and State taxpayers for “fishery enhancement programs”, spending which continues to this day.
Then when fish populations didn’t rebound the Environmental Water Account was created to acquire an additional 185,000 AF/Yr to offset further delta export pumping cutbacks. From 2001-2004 the EWA spent $166.2 million (much of it State General Fund tax payer dollars) on water acquisitions. Result? Not only were EWA acquisitions in direct conflict with historic water transfers for consumptive uses by farms and cities but fish populations continued spiraling downward. Most disturbing, though not surprising, was a 2004 scientific peer review by the CalFed Bay/Delta Program which could not identify where one single fish had been saved by the EWA. Not one!
Next, in 2006, with delta smelt populations continuing to dwindle, still more restrictions were placed on export pumping. Result? In 2009, as of July 15, another 628,000 AF was stripped from farms and cities from Tracy to San Diego with west side CVP farmers starting the year with -0- supply and only belatedly getting an abysmal 10% allocation. And numerous cities have been forced to ration water use. Result? One thousand square miles of farm land lie fallowed and abandoned, 40,000+ jobs have been lost and our state and regional economy has lost $ billions. And did that help the fish? No!
Early 2009 also saw farmers served by the CVP Friant Unit for the first time face the specter having Millerton Lake water released to meet the obligations of senior water rights holders. Parties who in the 1930’s exchanged their San Joaquin River water supplies for delta export water that the USBR was not sure it could deliver this year.
Now comes even more regulatory actions to protect salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and killer whales that will strip away yet another 300,000+ AF per year from delta export supplies beginning next year. And that ever shrinking delta export water supply “pot” doesn’t bode well for the water supply reliability or predictability of CVP Friant contractors, like Madera ID, either.
If the past is prologue, and as two decades of scientific studies have shown, this latest regulatory action won’t help the fish any more than all the other regulatory actions of the last 20 years. What it will do is leave west side farmers to face -0- water allocations, force cities as far south as San Diego to start declaring building moratoriums and leave east side farmers to face the greatly increased likelihood of their Friant water flowing to senior water rights holders.
The facts are these; over the last 20 years $ billions have been spent on Central Valley “fishery enhancement programs”, delta export water supplies have been radically reduced, an area of farm land the size of the State of Delaware has been fallowed or abandoned, tens of thousands jobs have been lost, our Valley’s once vibrant economy is collapsing, and Friant water supplies are now more uncertain than ever before. All that while fish populations keep going inexorably down. If there is some demonstrated beneficial use for the people of California being produced by this it escapes me.
Given that history and set of facts every Californian should be asking two straight forward questions. Is what has occurred and is occurring “demonstrated beneficial use for the benefit of the people of California”? Or is it “waste and unreasonable use”? The later should be obvious.