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State Lawmakers Demand Flexibility in Delta Pumping Requirements

SACRAMENTO – Today, Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals, and 16 of his colleagues in the California State Assembly sent a letter to the State Water Resources Control Board, Bureau of Reclamation, California Natural Resources Agency, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calling for increased flexibility to deliver water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to farms and communities throughout the state.

“Californians have suffered through four years of drought, and are now experiencing one of the wettest winters in recent memory,” Bigelow said. “Now is the time to capture storm runoff to use for farms, residents, and local businesses.”

A recent decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service restricts the amount of water that can be pumped from the Delta, even when there is excess water from recent storms. Last year the State Water Resources Control Board allowed increased pumping from the Delta after storms, because there was enough water to still maintain Delta ecosystems. The new restrictions will limit the amount of water that can be stored or used locally.

Already this year, 208,000 acre feet of water have been lost due to environmental restrictions. Failing to capture this water has resulted in nearly 70,000 acres of fallowed farmland and more than 1,500 lost jobs.

A copy of the signed letter is available here and the full text can be found below.

Lifelong rancher Frank Bigelow proudly represents the 5th Assembly District, which encompasses Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Madera, Mariposa, Mono, Placer, and Tuolumne counties and includes Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park.

LETTER SENT

Dear Director Murillo, Chairwoman Marcus, Secretary Laird, and Director Loehefener:

We are writing in response to the recent decision by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service that will result in a dramatic decrease in water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. This decision will cripple our local economies by eliminating our ability to effectively capture storm water.

Last year the State Board worked with the Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources to temporarily allow increased pumping from the delta when there is high inflow into the delta following a storm. This allowed us to capture water runoff associated from winter storms while providing adequate outflow for the delta ecosystems.

Our state and our region have been hit hard by four years of drought. We welcome the recent storms, and hope that the rain continues. However, storm water is of little use to our farms and local businesses if we are not able to increase pumping.

We have lost 208,000 acre feet of water this year alone as a result of environmental restrictions. Failing to capture this water has resulted in nearly 70,000 acres of fallowed farmland and more than 1,500 lost jobs. Now is the time to focus on recovering from the $2.7 billion in economic damages caused by the drought, not eliminating all pumping flexibility.

We live in a time of uncertainty. Reports from your own agencies tell us that we do not know what impact climate change will have on rain and snowfall. The next drought is likely around the corner. It is clear that we need to improve wet-year management in order to fully address the issue of drought in our state, and this year is our opportunity. We must have the flexibility to increase or decrease pumping with changing flow levels. Eliminating the ability to increase or decrease pumping puts us in a position of assuming inflow will be the same no matter how climate conditions change.

The state has discretion in where water goes in California. We cannot afford to ignore the impact that these restrictions have on the people and economy of our state. The state has an obligation to ask and provide for the maximum operational flexibility when it’s needed.  It’s needed now.

We request that the Bureau of Reclamation and State Board work toward a policy that allows for increased exports from the Delta during periods of high Delta inflow due to recent storms.

We are committed to working with your agencies to address this issue.

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