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California Droughts & Smelt Fish

January 13, 2015

By Paul Homewood


h/t Dave Burton



Whenever anybody mentions the drought in California, remind them about the smelt fish.


Two years ago, California had plenty of water following heavy rains in November and December. But there was a problem, as the Western Farm Press reported:





It would take about four average size minnow buckets to hold 305 3-inch Delta smelt, yet that is number of minnows responsible for diverting enough water to the ocean to provide a year’s supply for 800,000 California families.

800,000 acre-feet of water went to waste based on the science of four buckets of minnows. That is enough water to produce crops on 200,000 acres or 10 million tons of tomatoes; 200 million boxes of lettuce; 20 million tons of grapes. You get the picture?

No wonder Tom Birmingham, the normally thoughtful and analytical general manager of Westlands Water District, responded with, "This insanity has to stop," when asked to respond to a Fresno Bee news reporter’s inquiry about the Federal Bureau of Reclamation’s initial water allocation of only 25 percent of federal water to San Joaquin Valley farmers.

This is not a drought year. The meager allotment is the result of too much water.

Heavy rains in November and December created a water flush through the Delta, herding the threatened Delta smelt/minnow south, closer to water pumps that move water from the Delta to the San Luis Reservoir, a storage terminal near Los Banos, Calif., that collects state and federal project water for movement south to urban Californians and San Joaquin Valley farmers. To protect the endangered minnows, the pumps were periodically stopped through the winter. No pumps; no water south. Just water west into the ocean.

The ridiculous environmental rules protecting the Delta minnow say the pumps can only gobble up 305 of the minnows in a water year, which ends Sept. 30. The count is already 232 — more than 75 percent of the limit. So to make sure pumps supply water to 25 million people and millions of acres of farmland consumes no more than four minnow buckets full of smelt — 800,000 acre-feet of water is gone.

Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition points out, “Despite the heavy rain and snowfall earlier this water year in December, farmers will be receiving less water than last year, which was a dry water year."

The initial 25 percent is the lowest since 2009 following a drought year, not a bureaucratic drought like this year.

Birmingham was quoted as saying had the 800,000 acre-feet not been flushed to the sea, the initial allocation would have “easily” been 40 percent to 45 percent.

Now, rather than having a somewhat optimistic water outlook this spring, farmers are X-ing out sections of farmland on 2013 crop production maps and looking at ways to cut their payrolls — all based on four buckets of minnows.

Not only is the 305 smelt-science shaky, but farmers and city dwellers point out that there are many factors impacting smelt populations, including predator species (some purposely introduced into the Delta), pollution, and discharge from city sewage. However, pumping seems to be the smelt’s public enemy No. 1.

Of course, radical environmentalists want to shut down the pumps totally, claiming groundwater banking south of the Delta would solve California’s growing water crisis. The one question I have for this insightful, brainy group: Where do you think that water would come from for groundwater banking?

Most likely it would come from north of the Delta where the majority of California’s water originates. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect some of that 800,000 acre-feet lost this year could have been deposited in groundwater banks.

“Insanity” is putting it mildly.



When the inevitable drought did arrive, Obama was only interested in offering handouts and blaming global warming, as Investors Business Daily reported a year later:


Water Wars: President Obama visited California’s drought-hit Central Valley Friday, offering handouts and blaming global warming. But the state’s water shortage is due to the left’s refusal to deal with the state’s water needs.

Following legislative action last month by Speaker John Boehner and California’s Central Valley Representatives David Valadao, Devin Nunes and Kevin McCarthy, whose Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act was designed to resolve the long-standing problem of environmental water cutbacks that have devastated America’s richest farmland, Obama is grandstanding in California, too.

His aim, however, is not a long-term solution for California’s now-constant water shortages that have hit its $45 billion agricultural industry, but to preach about global warming. Instead of blaming the man-made political causes of California’s worst water shortage, he’s come with $2 billion in "relief" that’s nothing but a tired effort to divert attention from fellow Democrats’ dereliction of duty in using the state’s water infrastructure.

The one thing that will mitigate droughts in California — a permanent feature of the state — is to restore the water flow from California’s water-heavy north to farmers in the central and south. That’s just what House Bill 3964, which passed by a 229-191 vote last week, does.

But Obama’s plan is not to get that worthy bill through the Senate (where Democrats are holding it up) but to shovel pork to environmental activists and their victims, insultingly offering out-of-work farmers a "summer meal plan" in his package.

"We are not interested in welfare; we want water," Nunes told IBD this week. He and his fellow legislator Valadao are both farmers who represent the worst-hit regions of the Central Valley in Congress and can only look at the president’s approach with disbelief.

"He’s not addressing the situation," Valadao told us.

"They want to blame the drought for the lack of water, but they wasted water for the past five years," said Nunes.

The two explain that California’s system of aqueducts and storage tanks was designed long ago to take advantage of rain and mountain runoff from wet years and store it for use in dry years. But it’s now inactive — by design. "California’s forefathers built a system (of aqueducts and storage facilities) designed to withstand five years of drought," said Nunes.

"We have infrastructure dating from the 1960s for transporting water, but by the 1990s the policies had changed," said Valadao.

Environmental special interests managed to dismantle the system by diverting water meant for farms to pet projects, such as saving delta smelt, a baitfish. That move forced the flushing of 3 million acre-feet of water originally slated for the Central Valley into the ocean over the past five years.



The contrast between rainfall in the northern half of California and the south can be seen on the chart of 2014 precipitation below:


cag_[ Divisional Precipitation Values (accumulation between Jan 2014 and Dec 2014) ] 



As the man says, “Insanity is putting it mildly”!

  1. January 13, 2015 10:22 pm

    Electric power also falls into the same category of ignorance. California hasn’t built a single Power Plant in recent history and has to depend on importing electricity from the surrounding states.

  2. January 14, 2015 3:22 am

    Thanks, Paul. But it was a sad read.
    Yes, insanity is putting it mildly.

  3. Allan M permalink
    January 14, 2015 10:10 am

    “The ridiculous environmental rules protecting the Delta minnow say the pumps can only gobble up 305 of the minnows in a water year…”

    Why 305? Why not 300 or 325 or 350? Sounds like temperature precision, but not accuracy, to 1/100º.

    “Not only is the 305 smelt-science shaky…”

    Well now, there’s a surprise.

  4. Bloke down the pub permalink
    January 14, 2015 1:26 pm

    Wind farms are allowed to kill thousands of raptors but they’re prepared to let half the state dry up for the sake of a few fish. Sounds like the usual warmist logic.

  5. A C Osborn permalink
    January 14, 2015 7:04 pm

    Green induced Drought, you forgot to mention that the Greens also prevent new Dams being built as that will drown a valley. They put anything and everything before humans, but they themselves enjoy every part of modern civilisation. Total Hypocrasy.

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