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Delta Doozy
Double Doozy: Blame the Salmon
Double Doozy: Blame the Salmon
10 May 2016

Discussions about California water supplies have too often become a fact-free discourse that fail to advance an informed discussion. The State Water Contractors’ “Delta Doozy” series was launched in order to distinguish the facts from the fiction and promote constructive dialogue.
Today’s Double Doozy comes from the column, “Don’t blame the smelt,” written by Robin Abcarian of the Los Angeles Times on May 6, 2016:

“In California's water wars, it's hardly worth mentioning that truth is the first casualty. But it should at least be noted that last month's pumping limits were prompted not by the location of smelt, but of salmon.”

Some Facts for the Record: Pumping limits in April were related to inflows on the San Joaquin River. The limits were prompted by Central Valley Steelhead, NOT salmon. The details of this restriction are on page 641 of the full detailing of pumping restrictions related to the federal Endangered Species Act.

“Unlike salmon, smelt don't move around much. They live only in the delta's upper estuary….”

Some Facts for the Record: Smelt habitat is not limited to the Delta’s upper estuary. If that were true, no issues with smelt and water project operations in the southern Delta would exist. Smelt populations exist in Suisun Marsh, for example, in the summer. The Spring Kodiak Trawl survey by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is among the monitoring methods that have established population locations and migration patterns.
Truth was a casualty in “Don’t blame the smelt.” To say that April restrictions were due to salmon, and that smelt only live in the upper Delta, is simply untrue.


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 land.