Obama Administration releases Delta plan
By Mike Taugher Contra Costa Times
Posted: 12/22/2009 04:41:22 PM PST
Updated: 12/22/2009 05:07:05 PM PST
In response to California’s water crisis, the Obama administration says it will delay a plan to install gates in Delta channels meant to increase water supplies but push forward with a plan to build a new fish hatchery in Rio Vista to keep alive fish populations at risk of extinction.
The administration’s 23-page interim plan, released Tuesday, pledges better cooperation between the state and federal governments. It lays out a number of projects that it says will help ease the conflict between the need for water supplies statewide and the declining Delta environment until a more permanent solution is found.
Among the proposals:
Build a connector to link state and federal canals south of Tracy to facilitate water sales and increase flexibility in water deliveries.
Delay plans to build the “Two Gates” project that some water agencies were hoping would increase water deliveries this year. Instead, the administration said that further studies will be done to see if the project will work and whether it will be cost effective.
Intensify the investigation and response to industrial pollution, pesticides, sewer discharges and other environmental threats to the Delta to determine how they are contributing to the environmental crisis.
Install protective fish screens in several key spots, including a $30 million screen at the Contra Costa Water District’s Rock Slough intake, where the district now gets about 20 percent of its water.
Sequester carbon and restore wetlands habitat in key areas of the watershed.
Several of the measures were suggested by the Contra Costa Water District three years ago, but most were never implemented, said Greg Gartrell, the district’s assistant general manager.
“The long-term (solution) is going to take a long time, so you have to do these immediate actions or you’re going to end up in a bad place,” he said. “That’s where we ended up.”
The fish hatchery for Delta smelt and possibly other imperiled fish is planned in Rio Vista, where the city owns former Army base property that might be used for the purpose.
The site would be used to produce fish for research and maintain stocks of species in case they go extinct or are further threatened.
Among the fish species that might be raised there are Delta smelt, longfin smelt, Sacramento splittail, green sturgeon and others.
“We want the ability to expand to produce large numbers of fish should it become necessary to supplement the wild population,” said Bob Clarke, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional acting fisheries program manager.
Water users in the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California and their congressional allies were pushing for the “Two Gates” project this year. The idea was to submerge gates that can be opened and closed in the Delta to control the turbidity in the water.
Delta smelt are thought to stay in murkier water, and if the gates could keep the water near Delta pumps clear, water agencies thought they could get more water out without killing nearby fish.
“One way or another, we will be putting in gates in the Delta, not just to manage turbidity, but over the long run to manage flows, water quality and, I suspect, as a hedge against future island failures and sea level rise,” said Jeff Mount, a UC Davis geologist. “But it looks like Interior has made the decision to wait until the science that’s behind the smelt-turbidity hypothesis is better formed.”