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Trump’s California water relief

PETER O’CONNOR
Staff Columnist
oconnor@lbknews.com

A much-needed review to allow more storage and less waste.” (Editorial Page, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL,Saturday/Sunday, October 20 – 21, 2018)

This piece caught my eye in my Saturday morning reading.

I’m a Civil Engineer, both by training and Navy discipline. I like to see and use terms like acre feet, wastewater, water storage, biological opinions, Shasta Dam.  You get it.

“Donald Trump ran as a champion of the forgotten mam, and few have been forgotten more by the political class than California’s parched farmers. On Friday the President made good on a campaign promise to deliver more water to more people.

California has an arid climate in the best of times.  Yet tens of billions of gallons of water each year are wasted because of restrictions on pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that are intended to protect fish including smelt and chinook salmon.

One problem is that California lacks storage capacity in the north to capture the abundant precipitation that falls in the mountains during  wet years, such as 2017.  Runoff then rushes into rivers that dump into the delta rather than flowing south or into reservoirs for storage for the dry years.

The other major problem is federal regulations, known as biological opinions, that limit the rate at which water in the delta can be pumped to the south of the state.  During storm surges, most water is flushed out of San Francisco Bay.  In August  59, 300 acre feet of water were wasted —  enough to sustain 474,000 Californians for a year    and more than one million acre feet may flow out to sea during the wet months.

These restrictions are intended to prevent smelt from getting snared in the pumps and to maintain a pH balance suitable for fish. Nonetheless fish populations have continued to decline, which some biologists attribute to predatory species like the striped bass and wastewater.”

The Journal editorial continues:  “In 2010 federal Judge Oliver Wanger scored the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for ‘sloppy science and unidirectional prescriptions that ignore California’s water needs.’  The Ninth  Circuit Court of Appeals largely concurred  with Judge Wanger’s assessment but concluded that pumping restrictions were necessary to ‘counteract the uncertainties’ of the government’s analysis.”

“Enter President Trump , who has ordered the Departments of Commerce and Interior by 2019 to review their sloppy science and revise the fish biological opinions.  His Friday executive order also directs the agencies to streamline regulatory reviews for western water projects.

A major water storage and delivery project hasn’t been completed in California’s north for decades.  A project to raise the height of the Shasta Dam to store more water was stuck in regulatory purgatory for three decades, but the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation  has finally unclogged the Regulatory pipe and plans  to award a construction contract  next year.

The President’s reprieve couldn’t come at a better time since California regulators this summer proposed again to sharply restrict water deliveries to farms.  The state also enacted  legislation making water limits permanent. These include limiting indoor use to 55 gallons per day per person and restrictive rules for farm water management.

Most Californians may not like President Trump, but his water  decision is another case in which his willingness to challenge political shibboleths will help average people.”

  Shibboleths – definition of Shibboleths by The Free Dictionary www.thefreedictionary.com/Shibboleths   The passes into both the Democrat and Republican parties were seized, in the last century, by the modern-day equivalent of the Gileadites, who bar entrance to all who will not faithfully pronounce and venerate the party shibboleths, watchwords and pet phrases.

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