A federal judge is allowing the Biden administration to replace Trump-era biological opinions on endangered fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta with a temporary plan as federal agencies enter a years-long process to seek a permanent replacement. The Newsom administration has been a partner in the effort.
Environmental and fishing groups were seeking an immediate halt to the 2019 biological opinions and more stringent protections than those in the interim plan. Irrigation districts and water project contractors, on the other hand, were supporting the original opinions, arguing the calendar-based pumping operations were outdated and the Delta needed a more flexible management approach. Several California Democrats in Congress opposed the plan as well, including Senator Dianne Feinstein.
U.S. District Judge Dale Drozd wrote in his decision that the plan “presents a reasonable interim approach to the serious challenge presented, namely, that the [senior water rights contracts] make it exceedingly and increasingly difficult for [the Bureau of] Reclamation to operate Shasta Dam in a manner that is sufficiently protective of winter-run [salmon].”
State agencies are already applying the interim plan to develop a new temperature management strategy for protecting fish in the Sacramento River, which they expect to be approved by May.
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The state water board held a full-day workshop on Wednesday to go over the complicated modeling and analysis involved in the process and gather feedback from dozens of academics and stakeholders.
In her testimony, Gail Delihant, who directs government affairs for the Western Growers Association, said the new normal of persistent drought raises questions of whether salmon will be able to survive regardless of the plan. She added that constructing more water storage would help.
On that note, the California Water Commission bumped up the proposed Proposition 1 funding for Sites Reservoir by $25 million on Wednesday. Six other projects also in the approval pipeline would gain an extra 1.5% boost to account for inflation.
The commission had decided in February not to award that money to two other projects that entered the competition late.