Bureau of Reclamation’s Complicated Situation of Balancing Needs of Fish, People

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FOLSOM -- Don't be fooled by the increased water levels in our area.

Scientists say we are very much still in the drought, so we need to continue to save water -- not just for our consumption.

The issue is protecting two endangered fish species, which would reduce water supply for farmers and people in Northern California.

The fish – the Winter-run Chinook Salmon and the Delta Smelt – are protected by the Endangered Species Act. This means, by law, federal agencies like the Bureau of Reclamation must try to save them.

"We're trying to balance their needs of the environment, the needs of the farmers, and people and cities, and it's just very difficult for us this year. The environment and the species have taken a toll during this drought as well," Shane Hunt with the Bureau of Reclamation said.

There are two federal plans are being proposed to save the fish.

The first would mean holding back water at Shasta Lake, to keep the water cooler, to protect the juvenile Winter-run Chinook Salmon.

"While we have a lot more water in the reservoirs in the last couple of years, there is still concern about water temperature for those fish in the summer,” Hunt said.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service said seven years ago, there were more than 4 million young Winter-run Chinook salmon in the Sacramento River. Now, there are less than 340,000.

The reason is the ongoing drought. For the last two years, the Bureau of Reclamation has released cool Shasta Lake water early in the season. But flushing out the cold water the fish need, killed a majority of the salmon babies.

"Naturally, they would be in streams and creeks, far upstream from the dam. But the dam blocks their passage. So they are down in the valley floor, where it very hot during July, August, September. So we have to do a lot for the water temperature to be suitable for them,"

The second plan is for the Delta Smelt.

The bureau of Reclamation wants to push out more water out of the Delta to the Pacific Ocean. This means less water for the farmers that rely on the River for their crops.

The controversial plans forced 15 members of Congress to send President Obama a letter, urging his administration to reject the proposals. They say the federal plan would “significantly reduce the water supply to Californians.”

The state Water Resources Control Board still needs to sign off on this plan, which has not happened so far.

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