South Delta Salinity Violations by the Big Projects

Delta waterways and major rivers.

Delta Waterways
 Courtesy of California Department of Water Resources, Delta Water Atlas.

In 2005, the State Water Board began enforcing its 1995 Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan salinity standards that were to protect the southern Delta (an area from Manteca and Tracy to Stockton, including the federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project pumps near Clifton Court Forebay). The Plan required the US Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department Water Resources to be responsible for meeting the salinity standards, which are required under the federal Clean Water Act.

Almost immediately, the two big projects announced they would violate the salinity standards.

In 2006, the State Water Board issued a Cease and Desist Order against the projects which required them to use all available means to meet the standards along the San Joaquin River, Middle River and Old River in the south Delta, including purchases of water, releases of water from upstream dams they own (in the Bureau's case), recirculation of water through the pumps to the San Joaquin River, or physical gated barriers. By 2009, the Bureau and the Department had only attempted to make the temporary barriers in the south Delta work, but the salinity standards continued to be violated by the big projects.

The National Marine Fisheries Service’s salmonid biological opinion on the projects' Operations Criteria and Plan from June 2009 declined to approve continued barrier operation or construction of permanent tidal gates because they would disrupt critical habitat of migratory salmonid fisheries. Testimony from Bureau and state staff showed that neither project was interested in doing anything but construct permanent barriers in south Delta channels. No other alternative suggested by the State Water Board in its 2006 Cease and Desist Order was attempted by either water agency.

In April 2009, C-WIN and its allies in the Delta fishing and farming communities protested the petitions by the Department and the Bureau to relax the salinity standards. We testified to the State Water Board in June against relaxing the standards, and provided testimony showing the Board's unfortunately consistent tendency to relax or ignore salinity standards and flow standards that would protect both migratory salmon fisheries and Delta farming interests.