Adding to the debate over Northern California’s winter stormwater, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and congressional Republicans asked President Obama on Thursday to increase the volume of water pumped through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the drought-stricken San Joaquin Valley.
Feinstein, D-Calif., and a group of California House Republicans led by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy called for increased pumping in a pair of letters to the White House.
As winter rains have increased flows along the Sacramento River, farm leaders have expressed frustration that operators of the state and federal water projects have refused to pump more water through the Delta to the south state. Feinstein made a similar demand for more water in an open letter two weeks ago.
Project operators, however, said they have been pumping as much as they possibly can, given the restrictions imposed by the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Delta smelt and winter-run Chinook salmon are nearing extinction.
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Pumping has been scaled back slightly this week because of concerns raised by Fish and Wildlife officials over juvenile smelt populations, said spokesman Shane Hunt of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The bureau runs one of the two main Delta pumps; the other is run by the state Department of Water Resources. Hunt added that pumping could be restricted even further in the coming days as Fish and Wildlife does additional monitoring.
Feinstein, in response, told Obama that the project operators “have the discretion to exercise at least some flexibility” to increase pumping.
Marine biologists say pumping can harm fish populations by disrupting natural water flows, which draws fish toward predators and the pumps themselves.