Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Fish protection waived temporarily to let water flow | State headlines

California's State Water Resources Control Board has temporarily waived fish protection rules to allow for more storage in Central Valley reservoirs. 

The waiver means that more water can be distributed to cities and growers through the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. However, environmentalists are concerned that the move will jeopardize chinook salmon and other native fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that are already struggling to survive. 

The flow rules will remain suspended until March 31. The waiver was issued in response to criticism from water suppliers and growers who accused the state of wasting water during January storms by letting it flow through rivers out to sea instead of capturing it in reservoirs.

Water waiver key points:
  • The order from the State Water Resources Control Board came a week after Governor Gavin Newsom suspended two state environmental laws and urged the board to act. Water suppliers and growers had criticized the state for "wasting" water during the January storms by letting it flow through rivers out to sea instead of capturing it in reservoirs.
  • Winter-run and spring-run Chinook salmon, tiny Delta smelt and several other Delta fish species are listed as threatened or endangered by the state and federal Endangered Species Acts.
  • The decision to waive the flow rules was made to "maintain and expand water supplies given prolonged drought and uncertain climatic conditions."
  • While water suppliers applauded the decision, environmentalists lambasted Newsom, saying that the governor was "putting his thumbs on the scale in favor of extinction in the Delta" and "eviscerating environmental laws" with the stroke of his pen.
  • Fed by the January storms, the state's main reservoirs, Oroville and Shasta, which had been parched by drought, are at 116.5% and 86.6% of historic average levels, respectively.
  • Although the state received heavy criticism last month for not capturing more water, some experts say California did a good job capturing almost half the rain that fell in the Sacramento and San Joaquin watersheds in December and January.

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