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July 9, 2015

State Water Board Approves Sacramento River Temperature Management Plan

Despite significant opposition to the Sacramento River Temperature Management Plan, on July 7, the executive director of the State Water Resources Control Board approved the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s temperature management plan for the Sacramento River. The plan restricts summer water releases from Shasta Dam to preserve cold water for winter-run Chinook salmon and increases flows from Folsom Lake and Lake Oroville to decrease salinity in the Delta. The decision largely ignored the arguments of the water contractors and farmers with the Board only making slight adjustments to the plan prior to approving it, putting both the environment and water users at risk. 

The Bureau’s final iteration of the plan was presented to State Water Board officials on June 25. The plan is being heavily criticized by several growers and water contractors.  In April, six Central Valley water contractors sent a letter to the State Water Board stating the “plan would gravely impair water transfer potential while at the same time resulting in the Central Valley Project incurring greater debt to the State Water Project (SWP) under the Coordinated Operations Agreement (COA). These operational scenarios are unacceptable due to the unreasonable, and unavoidable, human and environmental harms they will cause.”   

Additionally, the letter urged the State Water Board to consider “data from prior years suggesting that the average rate of survival for out-migrating salmon is very low.”

Farmers made significant investments based on the operations plan agreed to in mid-April and which were further refined in May. These are irreversible decisions that were made based on the earlier plan. Officials estimate that the proposed change in operations could result in the loss of about 250,000 acre-feet of water for summer deliveries, although that number is a moving target.

The management plan calls for increased flows from Folsom Reservoir this summer to ensure healthy salinity levels in the Delta. However, the Folsom flows would not be pumped south of the Delta to levels that would make up for the loss of summer Shasta flows. Federal officials estimate Folsom Lake could drop to 120,000 acre-feet by the end of September – an historic low.

For more information, contact Gail Delihant at (916) 9466-1435.