Another devastating year for imperiled salmon and Delta fish forecasted unless CA officials take action

Over 14,000 of an estimated 18,000 wild spring-run Chinook salmon perished before spawning on Butte Creek last fall, due to low, warm water conditions. Photo by Allen Harthorn. | 






By Dan Bacher | 

The US Bureau of Reclamation at a news briefing on February 23 announced its initial 2022 water supply allocations for Central Valley Project contractors as California continues to reel from a record drought, pointing to another tough year for salmon and other fish populations in the Central Valley rivers and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

A recent scientific journal article reveals that the drought in the Western states that started in 2000 represents the driest two decades in 1200 years: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-022-01290-z 

Reclamation said allocations are based on an estimate of water available for delivery to CVP water users and reflect current reservoir storages, precipitation, and snowpack in the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada. 

The agency also said this year’s low allocations “are an indicator of the third consecutive dry year California is experiencing and will be updated if conditions warrant.”

“We began the 2022 water year with low CVP reservoir storage and some weather whiplash, starting with a record day of Sacramento rainfall in October and snow-packed December storms to a very dry January and February, which are on pace to be the driest on record,” said Regional Director Ernest Conant. “Further, the December storms disproportionately played out this year in the headwaters—heavy in the American River Basin and unfortunately light in the upper Sacramento River Basin, which feeds into Shasta Reservoir, the cornerstone of the CVP.”

CVP reservoir storage is currently below the historic average for this time of year and runoff forecasts predict that overall storage will be limited if substantial spring precipitation does not materialize, according to Conant.

The California Department of Water Resources’ forecast update from Feb. 1 to Feb. 15 shows a total decrease in projected annual inflow to Shasta, Oroville, Folsom, and New Melones reservoirs of 1.2 million acre-feet. 

“Without significant precipitation, this may continue to decrease further,” said Conant. “Losing over a million acre-feet of projected inflow in two weeks’ time is concerning. We’ve got our work cut out for us this year; strengthened collaboration and coordination among agency partners, water and power users, and stakeholders will be instrumental.”

The Bureau's press release, with all of the allocation details, is available at: https://www.usbr.gov/newsroom/#/news-release/4104

John McManus, President of the Golden State Salmon Salmon Association (GSSA),  pointed to another devastating year for imperiled salmon populations unless the Governor takes action to address the dire water situation.

"We're likely looking at another year of decimated natural salmon runs due to water decisions that favor a small group of agricultural landowners over the interests of the rest of California,” said McManus. “The governor's team needs to take action to avoid this disastrous outcome, not only for the thousands of families whose livelihoods are tied to the salmon industry, but also for all Californians who care about the natural fish and wildlife native to our state.” 

“The news from the Bureau of Reclamation makes clear that they and other water managers squandered a whole lot of water after the very wet spring of 2019. This highlights the need for more responsible drought planning.  When it comes to being responsible stewards of the state's natural resources, water business as usual isn't serving the state anymore,” said McManus. 

“Fish and people need that water,” Regina Chichizola, co--director for Save California Salmon, told the U.K. Guardian, adding that environmental water releases are important because they keep saltwater from the ocean from creeping too far into the freshwater rivers.  


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