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California Water Supply Under Threat by Conflicting Federal Agencies

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 12, 2016 -

Today, the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans held an oversight hearing on conflicting ideas between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that could threaten portions of California’s water supply.

NMFS proposed holding back water behind Shasta Dam through the summer and fall to preserve cold water for the Winter-run Chinook salmon. Conversely, FWS seeks to release water, increasing Bay-Delta outflow for the Delta smelt.

The conflicting proposals are causing great uncertainty for local communities and water users in California. Witness Jeffrey Sutton, General Manager of Tehama-Colusa Canal Authority, described several problems limited water releases—as NMFS proposed—have already caused and will continue to create.

“Reduced releases caused havoc on Sacramento River operations, resulting in some senior water contractors being shorted water supply, harm to irrigation pumping facilities due to low river elevations, water users having to alternatively pump groundwater wells at increased cost and from overly exercised aquifers due to the recent drought,” Sutton said.

“The fish agencies have based their latest demands on the premise that more water equals more fish. That notion has failed to work, as more water has been dedicated to the fish, but their populations continue to dwindle mainly due to ocean conditions, predatory fish and other natural factors,” Subcommittee Vice-Chairman Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) stated. “Defending the way the agencies have done business in this latest California saga is similar to a doctor ignoring the causes of sickness that could be cured.” 

Ara Azhderian, Water Policy Administrator of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, claimed fish are not recovering and farmers are suffering because the costs and benefits of such water uses are not accurately examined.

“Unlike agricultural and municipal usage which must account for the use and ensure the benefit of each drop, environmental usage undergoes no such scrutiny. On the contrary, its benefit is simply assumed," Azhderian said.

Witnesses discussed a number of solutions, including a single FWS-NMFS plan to cover both salmon and Delta smelt needs as opposed to the current conflicting proposals and two separate plans. Rep. Gosar also proposed merging FWS’ and NMFS’ responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act, similar to President Obama's proposal mentioned during a statement in his 2011 State of the Union address.

Click here to view full witness testimony.

Contact: Committee Press Office 202-226-9019

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