Binge Pumping Comes With a Hangover

On February 5, 2010, at the request of Westlands Water District and a number of other powerful water interests, a district court temporarily enjoined modest flow restrictions that reduce the number of salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, and other imperiled fish that get sucked into the massive water project pumps in the south Delta.  Today, the Judge ruled that flow restrictions should be reinstated at the pumps first thing tomorrow morning.  The bad news is that the 5-day suspension of those flow protections resulted in the pumps killing excessive numbers of protected fish – which is exactly why the protections are needed in the first place – and will likely ultimately lead to greater flow reductions at the pumps to make up for the damage done.  This outcome was entirely predictable, caused by those who rely on the pumps, and does not help anyone address the state’s very real water management problems.      

The number of threatened Central Valley steelhead killed at the pumps this year more than doubled from the time the Judge’s injunction went into effect on February 5th, when a total of 61 “no tag” or wild steelhead had been taken, to February 9th, when 154 wild steelhead had been killed at the pumps.  Over the same period, the number of “tagged” or hatchery steelhead killed also more than doubled, going from a season total of 328 fish taken by February 5th to 713 killed by February 9th.  Steelhead weren’t the only species to suffer.  As the federal government explained in their filing with the Judge yesterday:

The federal Central Valley Project (“CVP”) Jones Pumping Plant has already lethally taken twenty percent (20%) of the incidental take limit for adult delta smelt for the entire 2010 year, and more than 95% of that amount has occurred in just the few days since the Court enjoined the Reasonable and Prudent Alternative (“RPA”) at issue in the Salmonid Cases and lifted the associated pumping restrictions. 

Of course, the number of fish counted at the pumps is only a tiny fraction of the numbers that are harmed and killed by the water projects, really just the tip of the iceberg.  But what this means in practical terms is that the water project pumps, and those who depend on them, are in for a serious hangover following this period of binge pumping.  Because of the excessive pumping of the last few days, and the excessive number of fish that were killed as a result, the water projects will likely need to reduce deliveries more in the future to avoid hitting the take limits (the maximum number of counted fish that can be killed without pushing the species beyond the brink to extinction) that they are now much closer to exceeding. 

As Mom always says, it’s wise to practice moderation in all things.  By pushing the Judge to allow unrestricted pumping, Westlands and others cannot now yell foul when they reap what they have sown, and face reduced deliveries down the line as a result of this week’s excesses.