California is fighting a plan by President Donald Trump’s administration to push more water through the Delta – a move state officials say would harm endangered fish species and deprive millions of Southern Californians of water.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife, in a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said the federal plan would harm the nearly-extinct Delta smelt and other species. The state said the plan would also hurt the mostly urban water agencies that belong to the State Water Project, which might have to surrender some of its supplies to compensate for the federal plan.
Chuck Bonham, director of state Fish and Wildlife, also warned the federal plan could undermine months of negotiations over a massive but tentative water-sharing agreement that’s designed to ease some of the state’s longstanding water wars. Gov. Gavin Newsom cited those talks in his decision to veto SB 1, a bill designed to thwart the Trump administration’s environmental initiatives.
“Great care should be given to not disrupting that potential,” Bonham wrote.
The federal plan would only apply to water flows in the Delta through the end of October. But the dispute is a likely precursor to a larger environmental fight as the Trump administration finalizes sweeping new rules governing operations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to ship more water to farmers. California has already signaled that it plans to oppose that proposal.
For now, the fight is over a seemingly arcane change to how water flows through the Delta, and how much of it gets pumped south to serve customers of the State Water Project and the federal government’s Central Valley Project.
The Delta is the hub of California’s north-to-south water delivery network. Pumping more water south to the Central Valley Project’s largely agricultural water agencies would leave less water flowing through the Delta and out to the ocean.
Those reduced outflows would have two consequences. First, they would increase the salinity of the water in the estuary itself, hurting the fish species, according to state officials.
Secondly, the State Water Project might have to leave more of its water in the Delta to make up for the increased federal pumping. That’s because the state could be obliged to follow the California Endangered Species Act to protect the fish populations, said Lisa Lien-Mager, a spokeswoman for the state Natural Resources Agency.
The State Water Project’s largest member agency is the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves 19 million urban residents.