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Calif. officials deliver another “water-block” over Shasta Dam

The State of California revealed the latest trick up their sleeve in regards to slowing or stopping water delivery to millions of Californians through the Central Valley Project earlier this month.

The State Water Resources Control Board has rejected the Sacramento River Temperature Plan by the United States Bureau of Reclamation. The Temperature Plan has been months in the making in order to coincide with this year’s hydrology.  

As we have witnessed in the numerous lawsuits and injunctions filed by California against the Federal government to stop water from flowing people in our state, the Sacramento River Temperature Plan presented another opportunity for an anti-taxpayer roadblock, or should I say water-block.

It’s not news that we are experiencing a fairly dry year. By no means is it as dry as our “drought” years – which have been described by four-year drought, five-year drought, six-year drought, and so on.

For those who follow water in California closely, you already know the California man-made drought has wasted more water to the ocean during the span of three decades than any extended period of time with low amounts of precipitation or snowpack.

Generally speaking, the Sacramento River Temperature Plan and State Water Board Order 90-5 establishes water right requirements on the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation by California’s State Water Resources Control Board.

It involves the operation of Shasta Dam and Keswick Dam among others related to temperature control in the Upper Sacramento River for the protection of fishery resources.

It provides that Reclamation meet the requirement of 56° F on the Sacramento River for fish protection.  In order to do that, a cold water pool is necessary to adjust flows throughout the summer in order to keep water temperatures down. That means deeper water and it means holding water.  

Some of us remember the issues with the Sacramento River Temperature Plan in 2016. At the time, westside San Joaquin Valley farmers had a 5 percent allocation and the San Luis Reservoir was sitting at 14 percent capacity – the lowest reservoir level in the state.

Meanwhile, Shasta Dam sat at around 90 percent capacity.

We had the water, but they would not deliver it. Here we go again.

It seems the State Water Resources Control Board is attempting to require more than necessary from the Bureau of Reclamation in regards to this year’s Plan. The Water Right Order provides that Reclamation will report any change in the location where it will meet the temperature requirement of 56°F on the Sacramento River and to file an operation plan showing Permittee’s strategy to meet the temperature requirement at the new location.

The Bureau of Reclamation met that requirement in their submittal to the State Water Board.  In turn, the Water Board immediately started requesting additional requirements of the Bureau and has ultimately rejected the entire work.  

Once again, months of cooperation and communication are seemingly being wasted by the State of California.  

This time, it is the bureaucracy’s turn.

The shadow of political agenda has covered both people and fish once again as we have seen repeatedly by Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

Sometimes, it is telling by what is not said.

In communication by the State Water Resources Control Board to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, something is missing.

There is no mention of the 2019 Biological Opinions (BiOps), completed last October, as if they did not exist. 

It is as if the State of California is simply choosing to not recognize the current guidelines managing our water because they don’t like them.

What they do not like is that our water could possibly be managed in a way that – when it is abundant – we could receive a little more than we have in the past.

Can’t have that, can we?

In demanding more detail from the Bureau of Reclamation so they could turn around and reject the entire Plan, the State Water Resources Control Board missed some very important and pertinent information, or rather ignored it.

The 2019 BiOps has incorporated within it the best available science to develop strategies to make the best use of cold water at Shasta Dam.

Targeting and prioritizing the use of cold water through a tier-based system within the 2019 BiOps gives fish the best opportunity they have had for survival since our majority party prioritized water to the ocean with no regard to people or fish.

The State Water Resources Control Board doesn’t even mention 2019 BiOps – merely a “voluntary process.”

Colder water means deeper water. One of the lawsuits filed by the Newsom administration against the Feds successfully sought to hogtie an effort to raise Shasta Dam.

Raising Shasta Dam 18 feet for an additional 630,000 acre-feet of water would be great news for people and fish – and more cold water.

And lest we forget, if the State Water Resources Control Board keeps water behind Shasta Dam, it will not be coming to you.

Wayne Western, Jr.
Wayne Western, Jr. the The Sun’s Agriculture Pulse contributor, writing on the San Joaquin Valley’s agricultural community and water issues.