Farmers promote Delta smelt solution

Farmers promote Delta smelt solution

Twitchell setback levee, DWR photoIs there a solution to the Delta smelt controversy and its endless lawsuits?

Yes, according to a couple of seasoned Central Valley farmers, Russell Waymire and Jim Verboon. They say enlarging the Twitchell Island Channel in the Sacramento Delta could eliminate reverse water flows sucking young smelt into the pumps of the State Water Project. Problem solved.

But they believe they need to get the word out. They’re not getting much publicity beyond an interview in the Central Valley Business Times. Yet they have a combined 80 years of farming experience in the Delta, in addition to commercial fishing and agricultural real estate consulting. Waymire and Verboon also co-chaired the Farm Bureau Water Committee in Kings County.

Verboon described what he sees as the real problem with the endangerment of the Delta Smelt:

“The main problems Russ and I have seen over the years develop is, when the plumbing hasn’t changed over the years in the Delta, the water from the Sacramento River is allowed to join the San Joaquin River at Sherman Island in Antioch. It then reverses its natural flow of the San Joaquin River from there up into the Central Delta before it turns south to the pumps at Tracy. This is devastating to the salmon fishery and the Delta smelt. The reason is that water comes around Sherman Island and the weak swimming Delta smelt gets swept into the pumps. The salmon babies are coming down the San Joaquin River to get to the ocean and they run into these reverse flows that flow into their face and they are weak swimmers. That’s where the striped bass and large mouth bass hang out because it is easy pickings for them.”

That’s where Verboon advanced their solution:

“We have an additional project we would like to see considered. We would like to see an existing channel on the east side of Twitchell Island enlarged that would connect the Sacramento River and the San Joaquin River upstream from the pumps. This would eliminate these reverse flows currently between Sherman Island and Antioch and those pumps. This would be the best thing to do to help the young salmon find their way out to the ocean and for the older mature salmon to find their way to their spawning grounds. The enlargement can be made without even muddying the water. It’s not disruption at all and will increase the Delta’s navigability for boats between the north and south Delta.”

Waymire and Verboon are modest about their proposal, saying if it doesn’t work it would be inexpensive to just close the channel off so that fish don’t get pulled into the pumps or the pool where predator fish are.

And according to Waymire and Verboon, their proposal would be much cheaper than water engineer Dr. Robert Pyke’s Delta Tunnel Alternative or the Bay Delta Conservation Plan supported by Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Legislature.


Yet there are complications. 

In 2005 the Twitchell Island Reclamation District planted new vegetation along the channel to provide levee stability and improve the habitat of the Delta. Now that habitat may squelch any idea of expanding the channel.

Twitchell Island, mostly owned by the state of California, is substantially below the elevation of the adjacent channel and must be protected by levees. The California Department of Water Resources bought land on Twitchell Island to restore wetlands using state water bonds.

The DWR received seven proposals for levee improvement projects on Twitchell Island in 2014, none of which entailed enlarging the channel.

The only consideration for funding for Twitchell Island under California’s new water bond, Proposition 1, which voters passed last November, is to restore more lost habitat.

Another lawsuit

Meanwhile, on Jan. 12 the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from California farmers. According to the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented Stewart and Jasper Orchards and California water agencies against Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell:

“Federal restrictions have severely cut the pumping into the water system that serves millions of people in Central and Southern California.

“These are ‘the most drastic cuts ever to California water … the biggest impact anywhere, nationwide,’ according to the California water agencies.”

The court did not state whether the reason for its denial of hearing was due to the substance of the case or merely a lack of jurisdiction in state matters.


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  1. Devil Dog Bill
    Devil Dog Bill 3 February, 2015, 08:39

    farmers are natural real-world problem solvers. Common sense and ‘Get’r done’…
    Enviros have mutated into money-grubbing authoritarians, not the gentle hippies of yore, while lawyers thrive on intractable conflict..

    Reply this comment
  2. ricky65
    ricky65 3 February, 2015, 08:46

    Leave it to a couple of farmers to come up with an innovative and simple solution to a problem the so-called ‘experts would have us spend untold billions to fix.
    Even worse, the expensive proposed fix by the government spin doctors will likely result in the death of the patient. (i.e. the Delta.)
    And therein lies the problem. Its so simple that it will not even gain consideration by the government fixers who suffer from ‘tunnel’ vision and intellectual constipation.
    Complexifying simple problems is the only skill these folks possess.

    Reply this comment
  3. Chris Gulick
    Chris Gulick 3 February, 2015, 10:14

    I read the original piece in the CVBT and now this offering and I’m still left scratching my head.
    As a long time fisherman, business owner and resident of Sherman Island I’m not just skeptical of the idea of expanding Seven Mile Slough and connecting it to the Sacramento River I’ll just put it right out there and say it won’t fix anything.
    The reverse flows mentioned don’t just occur just at the west end of Sherman Island or even only west of False River @ the San Joaquin.
    All this will do is move the problem to a new location and not address what I think is the underlying problem of little or no outflow from the San Joaquin River.
    If you consider that DWR seriously contemplated damming Three Mile Slough @ the Sacramento River, roughly one mile west of this proposed new conveyance, to control the flow of water between the Sacramento and the San Joaquin AND is almost certainly going to dam False River @ the San Joaquin it begs the question.
    What will a “Twitchell Island Channel” really do ?
    The only possible benefit I can see would be a potential improvement in water quality for the North Delta Water Agency.
    However given DWR’s inability to meet the terms of their contract in the past it seems even that benefit would be dubious at best.

    Reply this comment
  4. Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla
    Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla 3 February, 2015, 11:26

    The reporting on this article is not fully correct. Restore the Delta has not endorsed Dr. Bob Pyke’s plan for the Delta. We support the Responsible Export Plan by the Environmental Water Caucus. We think that Dr. Pyke’s plan is worthy of further study by expert fish biologists and other scientists.

    We appreciate the work of Cal WatchDog.

    Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta

    Editor’s note: This was corrected in the text. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

    Reply this comment
  5. Chris Gulick
    Chris Gulick 3 February, 2015, 12:36

    While the editor has his pen warmed up perhaps he might take a look at this:

    “Yet they have a combined 80 years of farming experience in the Delta”

    I’ve researched both of their bio’s and find no evidence to support this claim.

    Reply this comment
  6. I Like Salmon
    I Like Salmon 3 February, 2015, 17:02

    Why do farmers dislike fishermen? It makes no sense that water can’t be pumped without killing all of the fish! Pump the water correctly or don’t pump it at all.

    Reply this comment

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