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Water Supply Cuts Imposed on California Public Water Agencies

State Announces More than 700,000 Acre Feet of Water Lost Due to Regulatory Restrictions

Posted: February 12, 2013 12:05 p.m.
Updated: February 12, 2013 12:05 p.m.

Sacramento, CA –Water exports through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta) have been cut back dramatically due to the loss of approximately 232 Delta smelt, a fish species that lives year-round in the estuary. Between November 1, 2012 and January 31, 2013, California public water agencies have had deliveries curtailed by more than 700,000 acre-feet of water. This water could have been used in homes, businesses and farms across the state were it not for the pumping restrictions in the southern Delta. If new diversion facilities in the northern Delta were in place, California’s public water agencies would not have lost this water.

“In the span of 92 days, we lost out on water that could have been used to supply more than four million people for an entire year. That’s a huge amount of water,” said State Water Contractors General Manager Terry Erlewine.

Exports have been curtailed in accordance with the Delta smelt biological opinion, a document that sets guidelines for the State Water Project (SWP) and Central Valley Project (CVP) pumping operations out of the Delta. This biological opinion was overturned by a federal court in 2011 and is currently being rewritten by federal fish agencies. Nonetheless, the pumping restrictions in this opinion continue to control project operations, including a complicated formula that provides a specific number of Delta smelt – 305 for this year – that can be entrained by pumping operations. Collectively, the SWP and CVP deliver water to 25 million Californians and three million acres of agricultural land.

“This year is proving to be another example of why the current system is unreliable and unsustainable. The water supply for 25 million people and millions of acres of farmland depends on where a few dozen fish are located in the Delta’s sprawling waterways. Until we build a better infrastructure system that protects both fish and water supplies, we’re forced to operate under regulations that have high costs for California’s public water agencies, farms and economy, while producing little if any benefit for the fish.” added Erlewine.

The decline of fish populations in the Delta, including the smelt, have frequently been blamed on California’s water supply operations and over the years significant cutbacks in water deliveries have been implemented. Despite cutbacks, the Delta smelt continue to struggle. There are additional stressors that impact the Delta smelt that must also be looked at, including invasive species, thousands of unscreened agricultural diversions in the Delta that upset the biological balance, toxic runoff from pesticides and wastewater treatment plant discharges that flow through Delta waters and nonnative predator fish, introduced for sport fishing, that have altered the natural food web.

The state and federal Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) process is advancing potential conveyance improvements in the northern Delta, including a twin tunnel system that could transport up to 9,000 cubic feet of water per second. A preliminary analysis shows that if such a tunnel system were in place today, most of the cutbacks could have been avoided while meeting all existing outflow standards to meet the needs of fish species. Smaller tunnel sizes would have been unable to capture the needed water supply and would have perpetuated the existing problem.

“We are grateful for the ongoing efforts by the state and federal governments to advance the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and address the existing crisis,” Erlewine said.


The State Water Contractors is a statewide, non-profit association of 27 public agencies from Northern, Central and Southern California that purchase water under contract from the California State Water Project. Collectively the State Water Contractors deliver water to more than 25 million residents throughout the state and more than 750,000 acres of agricultural lands. For more information on the State Water Contractors, please visit

Note: The Signal delivers press releases from reliable sources to provide up-to-the-minute information to our website readers. Information directly from news sources has not been vetted by The Signal news room. It may appear subsequently in news stories after it has been vetted.



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