State Water Board formally objects to Reclamation’s 2020 Sacramento River Temperature Management Plan

On Monday, June 1, 2020, the State Water Resources Control Board sent a letter to Ernest Conant, Mid-Pacific Director of the Bureau of Reclamation, objecting to Reclamation’s 2020 Sacramento River Temperature Management Plan.

Under Water Right Order 90-5, Reclamation is required to operate Shasta and Keswick Dams to provide adequate cold water in the Sacramento River for Chinook salmon. Reclamation’s new operations of Shasta Reservoir aggressively release water for exports south of the Delta, depleting Shasta’s cold water pool.  Environmental groups and Water Board staff were concerned that Reclamation estimated that there could be 28 percent temperature dependent mortality of in Winter Run Chinook salmon under the proposed operations.

Shasta Dam / Robert Campbell / CC BY-SA

As explained by the Natural Resources Defense Council et. al.,

While inflow to Shasta in 2020 has been very low, Reclamation also began the year with maximum water storage behind Shasta Dam. Reclamation has the ability to provide better water temperatures and  reduced mortality of endangered salmon, but instead chose to “maximize water deliveries.” The level of temperature‐dependent mortality predicted this year is unreasonable, particularly given this level of water storage at the beginning of the year. Moreover, Reclamation’s proposed operations would greatly reduce carryover storage in Shasta, leaving California vulnerable if 2021 is also dry.

State Water Board staff expressed similar concerns and requested “approaches that could lower mortality and improve carryover storage conditions.”

The State Water Board’s letter to Conant states:

State Water Board staff repeatedly requested that Reclamation provide information on operational scenarios other than those proposed in Reclamation’s TMP that could allow for better temperature control. Unfortunately, Reclamation has failed to provide the requested information. This information is needed to inform adequate temperature management. Since Reclamation has declined to provide the information, the State Water Board does not have sufficient information to make a well-informed decision on Reclamation’s final TMP. We are therefore unable to approve the TMP, and object to the plan.

In the spirit of cooperative federalism, we expect that Reclamation will provide the information we requested. In order to be in a position to potentially improve temperature conditions this year, the State Water Board needs the requested analyses within 20 days from the date of this letter. If this information is provided timely, we will reevaluate the TMP and consider approval at that time.

It is unclear whether Reclamation shares the State Water Board’s “spirit of cooperative federalism.”

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