Feinstein Calls for Increased Pumping, Capture and Storage of March Storm Water

By on March 15, 2016
Dianne Feinstein

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) recently issued a statement asking federal agencies to increase pumping and store more water during the March storms, as much as possible, within the bounds of the biological opinions.

A statement from Sen. Feinstein said, “Between Jan. 1 and March 6 last year, 1.3 million acre feet of water flowed through the Delta and 651,000 acre feet were pumped out. During the Same period this year 2.8 million acre feet of water flowed through the Delta but only 627,000 acre feet were pumped out.

“Pumping less water even though river flows more than doubled means 180,000 to 2000,000 acre-feet of water was allowed to flow out to the sea instead of being captured and stored-enough water to supply 360,00 homes for a year.”

Sen. Feinstein went on to say, “it’s inexcusable that pumping levels have been reduced without sufficient evidence of fish mortality, even while biological opinions would allow more pumping. January flows topped 50,000 cubic feet per second and peaked again in mid-February above 42,000 cubic feet per second. But rather than pumping as much water as possible under the biological opinions, pumping levels were ratcheted down for an entire month between mid-January and mid-February.

“In some instances these decisions were made even though available data suggested no smelt or salmon were anywhere near the pumps. I agree that pumping should be curtailed when these species are near the pumps, but in many cases the evidence simply didn’t support that conclusion. In other cases, adult smelt were spotted as far as 17 miles from pumps, which led to reduced pumping levels.

The effects of lowered pumping is keenly evident throughout the state. Sen. Feinstein’s statement detailed a specific example saying, “Just last week I met with 25 emerging leaders in California’s agriculture industry. One young farmer from Firebaugh told me that both he and his father lost their farms because of the drought, farms that employed 450 workers who harvested 4,800 acres of cantaloupes and honeydew melons.”

“Even if so-called turbidity bridges (which measure the cloudiness of water caused by the presence of suspended sediment) were present and required some reductions, many other days of high flows were squandered. And it’s important to note that so far in 2016, only three smelt have actually been caught in the pumps.

“This is clear evidence of the need for legislation to allow more water to be pumped during periods of high river flows while still adhering to environmental laws and the biological opinions and their adaptive management provisions. I believe now more than ever that the bill I submitted last month is necessary, appropriate and will result in real help during this historic drought.

“By requiring daily monitoring of fish near the pumps during times of high turbidity, real-time data can be used to inform decisions rather than relying on intuition. I hope the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a mark-up of my bill as soon as possible so the Senate can debate it.

Sen. Feinstein concluded her statement saying, “There are real-world consequences to the decisions being made in the Delta. That’s why we need to make sure we’re using every possible tool make the right choices. Basing pumping decisions on better science and real-time monitoring is the least we can do.

“It’s time to act,” she said.