California Senator Feinstein, Republican Majority Leader McCarthy write letters to President Obama Urging Increase in Water Pumping to Farms and Communities

By on March 29, 2016
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California’s Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA-23) have both individually written letters late last week urging President Obama to direct federal officials to increase pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta immediately. Both legislators are seeking Obama’s direction to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to increase water exports.

McCarthy’s letter specifically noted that “Mother Nature has blessed our state with much-needed precipitation.” But the letter notes that both FWS and NMFS have limited the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from exporting Delta water to California’s Central Valley and Southern California. This despite recent federal and state water contractors proposing to FWS, NMFS and Reclamation that Delta exports be modestly increased.

Feinstein’s letter cited that “water flows in the Sacramento are the highest they have been in four years.” But, with a nod to the Endangered Species Act and biological opinions, she asked that pumping be maximized to the extent allowable without undue harm to the smelt. Only three individual smelt have been caught at the pumps this year and the most recent trawls revealed no Delta smelt in the south Delta.

Earlier in March the water flowing out of the Delta into the Pacific Ocean exceeded 114,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) but Delta water exports have remained at about -5,000 cfs at the Old and Middle River. With the increase of El Nino flows this year, and while Delta outflow has been substantially higher this year, Reclamation has exported roughly the same amount of water this year as it did last year.

The recent proposal by federal and state contractors is for Delta exports at the Old and Middle River be increase to -6,000 cfs, given the amount of water flowing through the Delta to the Pacific. Feinstein’s letter to President Obama cites that “between January 1 and March 6 last year, 1.5 million acre feet of water flowed through the Delta and 745,000 acre feet were pumped out. During the same period this year, 5.5 million acre feet of water flowed through the Delta, but only 852,000 acre feet were pumped out.

McCarthy goes on to note the more troubling information that “Not only did the agencies (FWS, NMFS and Reclamation) reject this proposal, but that FWS will likely order Reclamation to reduce Delta exports to -3,5000 cfs at Old and Middle River today (March 24) with the potential for future reductions.”

The calls from California’s legislators to President Obama were specific. McCarthy said “…we…need specific leadership from our Chief Executive. That specific leadership is simple: a clear message to the relevant federal agencies to increase – not decrease – pumping over and above -5,000 cfs to take full advantage of these recent storms.” Feinstein was more succinct in saying “If we can’t increase pumping during an El Nino year, then when else can we?”

McCarthy continued saying, “You have traveled to our state. You have seen the devastating impacts the lack of water has caused to our communities, cities, farms and business. Your Presidential Memorandum, released just three days ago (March 21), acknowledged the effects of the drought and directed federal agencies to collaborate with local governments and non-governmental entities to help lessen the impacts from the drought and expand water resources.”

Echoing McCarthy’s frustration, Feinstein said, “There are real world consequences to the decisions being made in the Delta. 69 communities in the Southern San Joaquin Valley reported significant water supply and quality issues. And land is caving, bridges collapsing, as a result of overdrawn ground wells and subsidence. That’s why we need to make sure we’re using every possible tool to make the right choices.”

The letter penned by Feinstein called the current water system handicapped by “A dogmatic adherence to a rigid set of operating criteria that continues to handcuff our ability to rebuild our reserves. We need a more nimble system.” McCarthy confirmed Feinstein’s statement saying, “It will take years and tens of millions of acre-feet of water to replenish our groundwater resources and for Californians’ lives to get back to normal.

McCarthy’s letter was signed by fellow Representatives Ken Calvert (CA-42), David Valadao (CA-21) Devin Nunes (CA-22) Tom McClintock (CA-04), Mimi Walters (CA-45) Darrell Issa (CA-49), Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48), Jeff Denham (CA-10), Steve Knight (CA-25), Ed Royce (CA-39), and Duncan Hunter (CA-50).

In conclusion, both Feinstein and McCarthy implored President Obama to immediately increase Delta water exports, rather than reduce them. Feinstein said, “Basing pumping decisions on better science and real-time monitoring is the least we can do.” McCarthy concluded his letter saying, “The fate of California and the lives and livelihoods of our constituents are at risk. The time to act is now.”