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CA Congressional Reps Protest New Water Hold Backs

Washington, DC — Fifteen US Congressional members from California are crying foul over plans that threaten to deliver previously allocated water to farmers and wildlife refuges.

Mother Lode Rep. Tom McClintock along with 13 other Republican members of Congress signed a letter penned by Fresno Democratic Rep. Jim Costa to US Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and US Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. The letter questions conflicting proposed supposed fish enhancement-related actions by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) relating to Shasta Reservoir. The signers say these would create havoc by further reducing water supplies for numerous stakeholders down the line, while potentially requiring further releases from other sources such as Friant and Folsom dams.

Costa, who hails from a third-generation Fresno-area farming family, points out that the agencies have continually maintained, even in testimony to Congress over regulatory constraints, that water supply shortages were primarily due to drought.

A Change Of Plan?

However, after four years of drought and two years of zero water allocations for many farms and communities served by the Central Valley Project (CVP), the past winter restored Shasta Reservoir and Folsom Lake to above average storage levels. Costa notes that supplies were deemed sufficient for the Bureau of Reclamation to make 100 percent water allocation commitments earlier this year to Sacramento Valley farmers, San Joaquin River Exchange contractors and wildlife refuges in the San Joaquin Valley.

Calling to task NMFS, which previously signed off on Reclamation’s operational plan back in March, the letter questions NMFS’s recent proposal to significantly limit releases from Shasta Reservoir to further protect winter-run salmon that would cost the CVP about 400,000 acre-feet of water, creating impacts to Reclamation’s operational plan, possibly requiring more draw from Millerton Lake. In direct conflict to these actions, the communication also notes a FWS request to purchase up to 300,000 acre-feet of water, some of it from Shasta, in support of plans to increase summer outflow for Delta smelt.

According to the lawmakers,  the agencies’ proposed actions raise numerous questions that need to be vetted to the public, so that constituents may understand the choices and benefits — and have the opportunity to evaluate and determine the sacrifices involved. The letter (to read the full text, click here) requests detailed explanations before FWS or NMFS take any actions that deviate from Reclamation’s already approved operational plan.