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Folsom Lake a player in Delta smelt crisis

By: Roger Phelps, The Telegraph
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Water release rates from Folsom Dam might be affected soon by a court-driven decision from federal wildlife officials. A legal ruling in May 2007 forced U.S. Fish and Wildlife scientists to issue a new “biological opinion” by Dec. 15, or sooner, on whether current state and federal water operations adequately protect the endangered Delta smelt. A new opinion could back a conclusion that pumping should be cut to protect the smelt, which is being sucked into pipes in large numbers and killed at the federal C.W. “Bill” Jones Pumping Plant near Tracy, at a time when its population is at a record low. “The opinion is on the operations of the Central Valley Project,” said Paul Fujitani, chief of water operations for dam operator U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. “Folsom Dam is part of the CVP, so it (the new opinion) could have an impact.” Ultimately, Folsom Lake is likely to take a hit whenever the smelt crisis forces pumping operations to shut down or slow at the according to Fujitani and an account in the American River Wildlife News publication. When farmers don’t get pumped Delta water, they get San Luis Reservoir water, instead. Folsom Lake drawdowns refill San Luis Reservoir in those cases, then-bureau spokesman Jeff McCracken said in 2007. A judge threw out an earlier Fish and Wildlife opinion that the smelt was in “no jeopardy” from the pumping. Bush-administration scientists improperly selected data to back a no-jeopardy conclusion, the judge ruled. American River water released from Folsom Dam is among the fresh waters pumped south in the Delta-Mendota Canal. But Folsom Lake water is also tabbed as replacement water through San Luis Reservoir for water farmers would have received from the Jones pumping plant were it not for the smelt. So, it’s anybody’s guess as to whether less pumping at Tracy – if it comes – could mean less, or more or the same amount, of water retained by Folsom Dam operators in Folsom lake, now at a disturbingly low level. It depends at least partly how officials decide to serve Southern California agriculture. “It’s all conjecture,” said Steve Martarano, a spokesman for the fish and wildlife service. “That’s what’s going to be determined (after the new opinion is recorded).” Regardless of any future effect of the new biological opinion to be issued this month, Folsom Dam beginning this month is releasing slightly less water than previously, a reduction from 1,100 cubic feet per second to 1,000 cfs, federal officials have said. The Telegraph’s Roger Phelps can be reached at rogerp@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment at folsomtelegraph.com.