There has been considerable conflict lately between water users and fishery managers over the operation of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Biological opinions dating back to 2008 and 2009 have wreaked havoc on water supplies for farms, homes and businesses in the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. Between December 1, 2015 and April 4, 2016, 913,000 acre-feet of water that could have been put into storage for use later this summer instead went out to the ocean with no measurable environmental benefits. That represents almost 300 billion gallons, or enough water to meet the domestic needs of 5.3 million people for a full year.
That’s why it’s refreshing to hear some positive news about partnerships that benefit both people and the environment. Oakdale Irrigation District and South San Joaquin Irrigation District recently approved a plan to sell up to 75,000 acre-feet of water to farmers in the San Joaquin Valley who have been largely cut off from water deliveries because of the salmon and Delta smelt biological opinions. The water sale benefits the environment because the timing of the releases is being coordinated with environmental pulse flows, which helps push salmon down the Stanislaus River to the Pacific Ocean. Hopefully, three years from now, they will have grown and return to spawn in the river. That’s assuming that the baby salmon can avoid the voracious predatory bass lurking in the Delta that some studies indicate consume over 90 percent of the out-migrating baby salmon.
The water sale benefits the environment because the timing of the releases is being coordinated with environmental pulse flows
The benefit of the transfer revenues to both Oakdale and South San Joaquin Districts is a furtherance of their investments in advancing water conservation activities back home. That’s a triple bottom line if there ever was one. The ecosystem benefits through timing of fish flows. San Joaquin Valley farmers benefit because they faced little to no surface water deliveries for the past three years. And the overall efficiency of California’s water supply system benefits through improved water use efficiency and conservation.
Let’s seek more solutions like that.