Why is it that Southern California residents have sacrificed with brown lawns, 5-minute showers and “flushing only after number two,” while bureaucrats have been flushing vast quantities of water to the ocean?
These actions are supposedly meant to prevent harm to threatened and endangered Delta smelt and winter-run Chinook salmon. Sadly, flushing all this water to the ocean, year after year, has shown no measurable ecosystem benefits and, instead, resulted in a monumental waste of water.
Consumers and farmers are being unjustifiably denied what should be fairly normal water supplies this year while bureaucrats continue to waste water on a failed experimental effort to help fish. Unfortunately, the fish aren’t recovering, and the bureaucrats are just making a bad situation worse for all Californians.
People who receive water from the state and federal water systems are seeing this year’s supply once again flushed to the ocean – water that 3 million acres of farmland and 25 million consumers depend on.
In less than 90 days – from Dec. 1, 2015, to Feb. 28, 2016 – almost 200 billion gallons of water has been flushed out through San Francisco Bay. That’s enough water to supply almost 3.5 million Southern Californians with enough domestic water for a year or enough produce for 11 billion salads.
Why Is This Freshwater Going To The Ocean?
Because federal fishery managers were overly concerned that pumping it into storage increased the possibility of harming fish. To be clear, fish weren’t being harmed, and the potential risk to them was minimal at worst. The 2008 and 2009 salmon and Delta smelt biological opinions, or rules, that govern these bureaucratic actions incorporate “triggers” into the decision process that ultimately reduce water supplies to people in favor of fish. No triggers had occurred that would have reduced pumping under the existing rules.
The good news is that these same rules also include sufficient flexibility to allow increased water deliveries to people. The bad news is the bureaucrats refuse to utilize the tools in place to provide more water to millions of people. That flexibility, written to comply with all Endangered Species Act protections, is being ignored, and no one seems able to explain why.
Last April, Gov. Jerry Brown told California’s urban residents to cut aggregate water use by 25 percent. People banded together and met the governor’s mandate, joining with farmers who had already lost up to 100 percent of their surface water supplies. Even with this strong effort, farmers were forced to fallow more fields, and farmworkers stood in food lines because their jobs harvesting the nation’s food supply were gone.
Making matters worse, the salmon and Delta smelt populations haven’t improved. Yet they continue to wallow in a failed, experimental effort that has only resulted in a waste of water that could have otherwise been used by people. Everyone wants a healthy environment but there should be some accountability for the resources we’re literally pouring into the problem.
Things are shaping up for a repeat of all this unless someone gets a handle on the gross mismanagement of the state’s water resources. It seems that only Congress has the power to do something about it. Congress could give explicit direction to water managers to exercise the maximum flexibility under the existing environmental rules. It is possible to protect the environment while giving people fair and equitable access to the water that grows our food and serves our homes and communities.
This article was written by Mike Wade, the Executive Director of the California Farm Water Coalition.