By Michael Raffety
Back in May I attended seminars presented in Monterey by the Association of California Water Agencies. One of the sessions I attended was a large audience venue at a local theater.
The subject was “Statewide Issues Panel – Can We Close the Settlement Deal for the San Joaquin River Flow Plan.” All the panelists, including the moderator were lawyers, with one of them being the chief counsel for the State Water Resources Control Board.
I took some notes, but in reviewing them, it all adds up to a lot of lawyer mumbo jumbo. The real take-away for me came during audience questions. I was struck by a statement from a crusty old guy, whom I later learned was a board member from West Stanislaus Irrigation District. I pegged his age at 89. He pointed out that before the dams salt-water intrusion came all the way to Sacramento.
He was old enough to remember, for sure.
The first big dam was Shasta, completed ahead of schedule in 1945. It took only 26 months to build it. The editor who hired me at the Mountain Democrat, Ursula Smith, married a person who came west to work on Shasta Dam. Ursula left Germany in the 1930s and worked as a photographer in New York City.
She came to work at the Mountain Democrat under Editor Larry Belanger because she had moved to one of the original sections of El Dorado Hills, built in the 1960s.
Ursula had been editor just six months when she hired me in 1978, naming me city editor four months later. Ursula still had a slight German accent.
I’m assuming the Smiths moved up here when construction of Folsom Dam began in 1951, followed by Nimbus Dam in 1952. Folsom was completed in 1955.
It was those dams, along with Oroville — built in 1961 and finished in 1968 –,that regulated flow into the Sacramento and its two major tributaries, the Feather and American rivers. That pushed the salt water out to Carquinez Straight and San Pablo Bay. The only ones complaining about salt-water intrusion are the city of Antioch and sometimes Delta farmers, especially during lower water years or droughts.
All the lawyers talking about the state beating on water rights owners to release more water from dams on the San Joaquin River appeared to go into a lawyer zombie apocalypse when James McLeod stood up and told them the dams kept the salt water from moving with the flood tide back to the city of Sacramento.
The State Water Resources Control Board is working up a scheme to take 40 percent of the “unimpaired flow” from water rights holders before June. Although Michael Lauffer, the chief counsel for the State Water Resources Control Board, at the forum mentioned 65 percent of unimpaired flow to “support the Delta ecosystem.”
“Unimpaired flow is runoff that would have occurred had water flow remained unaltered in rivers and streams instead of stored in reservoirs, imported, exported, or diverted. The data is a measure of the total water supply available for all uses after removing the impacts of most upstream alterations as they occurred over the years. Alterations such as channel improvements, levees, and flood bypasses are assumed to exist,” said a study prepared by the Schwarzenegger administration in 2007.
Here is what the state water board said in an October 2016 press release: “Greater quantities of Delta outflow are needed during the winter and spring to support estuarine processes, habitat, and the species that depend upon them.”
The closest thing to what the Delta was like before it became channelized is the Yolo Bypass. When it is flooded young salmon grow large quickly on the food there.
Unimpaired flows mean flooding or salt-water intrusion.