The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has quickly approved a request that could make an additional 30,000 acre feet (AF) of water available to the San Luis Delta-Mendota Water Authority (SLDMA) this month through the 2009 Drought Water Bank (Bank).
The Service completed its role in the transfer in just eight days, receiving the request on Aug. 20 and issuing its amendment approval on Aug. 28. Approval means that the Tehama-Colusa Canal Authority (TCCA), which is in the Sacramento Valley, will be able to sell up to 30,000 AF of water that recently became available. TCCA found that its farmers now have water that can be sold to water users south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The water became available due to increased allocations, shifting to crops that use less water and increased use of groundwater.
The Service noted that none of the crop shifting involved rice lands, which can be habitat to the protected giant garter snake, so the changes will not increase impacts on the protected species.
The Service issued its initial biological opinion (BO) for the 2009 Bank on April 13, just five weeks after receiving the request for consultation. The initial BO covers efforts by the CA Department of Water Resources (DWR), which operates the Bank, to transfer up to 398,328 AF of water from Sacramento Valley interests to users south of the Delta. Recognizing the urgency of the water need, the Service accelerated its original consultation, which under federal law can take up to 135 days.
Under the original BO, DWR agreed to implement a monitoring and research strategy for the giant garter snake. The snake is impacted because the water being transferred often comes from rice farms. Rice fields became important habitat for giant garter snakes as the valley changed. The new amendment to the BO does not increase the amount of water that can be transferred. The significance of the amendment is the availability of water from a new source. TCCA was not originally proposed a source of water for the Bank. None of the crop shifting involves rice lands.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.