Pacific Swell

Southern California environment news and trends

State, federal officials' drought plan already stirring up trouble for competing water interests

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California and federal officials Wednesday released a roadmap for managing the state's scarce water in a way that they say balances the needs of people and wildlife.
All the agencies with some authority over California's water supply got together to make a "Drought Operations Plan." The document lays out roughly how water will be divided over the next 7 months or so - particularly in areas where there are competing interests.

The state's plans for what little water has made its way into the State Water Project do not include any water contractors getting those supplies. That includes the Metropolitan Water District, the wholesaler that sells water to more than to dozen local Southern California water suppliers.
Officials said negotiating a document among several agencies that share jurisdiction over water policy is no mean feat. And as with any negotiation, not everyone is happy about the results.

Migratory birds and fish like winter run Chinook salmon already are living in adverse conditions. Those salmon and Delta smelt need a certain amount of water to be healthy.   

Department of Fish and Wildlife Chief Chuck Bonham described migratory birds coming from Canada and the midwest. "They'll be looking down at some of the driest habitat they've seen in decades," he said. "In times of drought you see increased risk of disease spread. You see crowding of habitat. So the list of ecological risks is quite large."

Environmental groups are complaining the state is relaxing wildlife protections to spread water to agriculture.

Bonham denies that.  "I would not use the word relaxation," he said. "I would say we are finding maximum flexibility within existing law."
There is some good news on the horizon. Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin says recent northern California storms have lifted some pressure on tight resources.   
"Based on the rain that we received in March, I think we're much closer to conditions we see in the average, the 50 percent forecast," he said.
Officials emphasize the operations plan is far from final; that extra rain hasn't been factored in yet. They'll update their guidelines for action within a few weeks.

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