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Proposal To Increase Delta Water Flows Causes Contention Between Farmers, Fisheries

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

Following nine years of research, a California agency has proposed to increase water flows in the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary. But the decision is causing contention between farmers and fisheries.

The California State Water Resources Control Board says the proposal will prevent an ecological crisis, including the total collapse of fisheries. About 70,000 fall-run Chinook salmon adults returned to the San Joaquin Basin in 1984, but that number fell to just 8,000 in 2014.

In response, more than 50 agricultural, water and business organizations submitted a joint letter to the state’s water board on Friday, saying the move will benefit fish at the expense of farmers and ranchers. A press release from the California Farm Bureau Foundation says the proposal to allocate more water to the San Joaquin Delta’s tributaries is based on “an expedition of scientific uncertainty.”

Farmers say the water board hasn’t exhausted all options and are looking to have them support more creative ways to protect the Delta.

Mike Wade, Executive Director of the California Farm Water Coalition, says if the proposal is passed as-is it will reduce the amount of food farmers will grow, causing food prices to rise.

“[But] it’s not going to reduce demand on the food that we consume in the state,” Wade says. “So it means we’ll be looking elsewhere on the world market for food products that people currently depend on coming from California.”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director at the non-profit Restore the Delta, says the proposal shouldn’t create a fight between farmers and fisheries. She says powerful water boards throughout the Delta haven’t been allocating their fair share of water to benefit both groups.

“My feeling about the farmers that are angry at us is that they’re fighting with the wrong party,” she says. “It’s not a contention between farmers and fisheries. It is a contention between more powerful people and less powerful people.”

The California Water Board is scheduled to vote on the proposal in August.


Nadine Sebai

Former Temporary State Government Reporter

Nadine Sebai was Capital Public Radio’s temporary state government reporter. Nadine is also a co-editor of Local Matters, a weekly newsletter showcasing investigative and watchdog news stories from local publications across the country.  Read Full Bio 

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