Early thoughts on today’s Delta Flow Requirements report, released by the State Board.

I am quite enjoying the Draft Flow Criteria for the Delta, which was mandated by the legislature in the part of last Fall’s water legislation that wasn’t the water bond.  The legislature told the State Water Board to determine how much water should flow through the Delta to keep native fish species alive in the Delta*, and to do that within nine months.  Those flow requirements wouldn’t be immediately turned into any sort of binding regulation, but rather they would be an informational benchmark.  I don’t have the expertise to say whether those flow requirements are set at the right level.  But to my eye, this looks like a thorough report that explains its methods and gives a reasonable guess.  It also speaks remarkably directly and clearly for a government report**.  Perhaps this is the good influence of Phil Isenberg, whom I once saw direct his staff to write clear normative sentences for people to agree or disagree with. 

All of this makes me wish that the legislature would direct the State Board to come up with fish flow requirements within nine months all the time.  I’m thinking that the State Board was able to round up enough scientists to give them a good rough take.  After that first rough take, any more work on the report just leads to weaseling and backing down.  Maybe this was very expensive for the State Board to do; maybe their staff had to drop everything to get these flow recommendations out so fast.  But maybe the State Board should have to do this a few more times.  They could stand to do this for Butte Creek, where salmon are stranded.  For the Scott River, where they pretend that groundwater doesn’t come straight out of summer river flows.  For the Klamath.  For the Shasta River.  Maybe, after such a hurried process, the State Board might think that their instream flow requirement estimates could be off by five or ten percent.  But we would at least have somewhere to start.  Now we know we can have that very quickly, when the legislature tells the State Board to get a jump on it.

*This is different from what Judge Wanger is doing.  Judge Wanger is trying to run the pumps at times when endangered fish aren’t around to be sucked into the pumps and pulped.  That results in a flow out the other side of the pumps.  But all he’s trying to do is set flows at times that don’t kill salmon and smelt.  This State Board report is looking at how much freshwater needs to flow through the Delta for endangered fish to live their fishy lives at all stages.

**Point 7, page 6 was remarkably direct, I’d say.

Restoring environmental variability in the Delta is fundamentally inconsistent with continuing to move large volumes of water through the Delta for export.  The drinking and agricultural water quality requirements of through-Delta exports, and perhaps even some current in-Delta uses, are at odds with the water quality and variability needs of desirable Delta species.

I’ve heard rumors that the Schwarzenegger administration is spending its last months trying to lock in as much commitment to the Peripheral Canal as possible.  Those are only rumors, but they sound likely to me.   I can believe that Point 7 is scientifically true, and also another piece of politicking for the Peripheral Canal.

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