The Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Water Resources plan to allocate approximately 5 million acre feet of water this year – as long as California allows them to effectively drain the two largest reservoirs in the state, potentially killing most or nearly all the endangered winter-run Chinook salmon this year, threatening the state’s resilience to continued dry conditions, and maybe even violating water quality standards in the Delta.
The Bureau of Reclamation recently announced initial water supply allocations for Central Valley Project contractors that would deliver nearly four million acre feet of water this year (primarily for large agribusiness in the Central Valley), and the California Department of Water Resources has previously announced that it would deliver close to another million acre feet of water this year (about half of which would primarily go to irrigate rice along the Feather River). Five million acre feet is a lot of water, especially in a very dry year – roughly enough to supply the City of Los Angeles for 10 years.
But these water allocations would come at a steep cost, because they depend on draining California’s the two largest reservoirs in the state (Shasta and Oroville reservoirs) to levels on par with — or even below – the devastating drought years of 2014 and 2015. This poses an unacceptably high risk of killing the vast majority of endangered salmon below Shasta Dam this year, like in 2014 and 2015 when endangered salmon runs on the Sacramento River downstream of Shasta Dam were decimated by lethal water temperatures, as the tables below show:
Shasta Reservoir (Bureau of Reclamation):
|Year||End of April Storage||End of September Storage||Estimated Temperature Dependent Mortality of Endangered Winter-Run Chinook Salmon|
|2014||2.41 million acre feet (“MAF”)||1.38 MAF||77%|
|2015||2.66 MAF||1.60 MAF||85%|
|2021 (Est)||2.481 MAF||1.407 MAF||??|
Oroville Reservoir (Department of Water Resources):
Draining California’s major reservoirs won’t just kill off the salmon that spawn below these dams and threaten thousands of fishing jobs that depend on healthy salmon run; it also means that California will be very badly unprepared if 2022 is also dry.
And to make matters worse, there are widespread rumors that DWR and Reclamation are considering petitioning the State Water Resources Control Board to waive water quality standards in the Delta, because these agencies refuse to plan for the inevitable drought years in California. Instead, they appear to simply expect to be allowed to break the rules during droughts, as they did in 2014 and 2015, which caused devastating impacts to our native fish and wildlife. In 2016, the State Water Board concluded that,
However, the State Water Board also determines that the status quo of the past two years is not sustainable for fish and wildlife and that changes to the drought planning and response process are needed to ensure that fish and wildlife are…