The State’s Delta outflow standard for July and August varies from 3000 to 8000 cfs on a 14-day average. The standard in in the drier years is 3000 cfs. The standard in wetter years is 8000 cfs in July and 4000 cfs in August.
These standards have been met for the most part over the past five years (Figure 1). Outflow was greater in 2017 and 2019 than these numeric outflow standards since the State also had to meet the Delta salinity standard that in wet years extends into August. The outflow standard in August 2015 (3000 cfs) was not met under a State Board emergency order in the third year of drought.
The July and August Delta outflow standard should be a 10,000 cfs minimum daily average tidal flow at Rio Vista in the Sacramento River (Figure 2) and 2000 cfs minimum daily average tidal flow at Jersey Point in the San Joaquin River (Figure 3). In addition, a standard of -2000 cfs in False River (Figure 4) is needed to protect endangered smelt and salmon, as well as to protect water quality in the central Delta.1
Standards should also be set to protect against extreme events and circumstances. An example is salt intrusion and high water temperatures in the Delta, such as occurred in a heat wave in mid-August 2020 (Figure 5 and 6). Water temperatures of 23-25oC in the low salinity zone (500-6000 micro-mhos conductivity) are rare and highly detrimental if not lethal to smelt and salmon. Delta exports were raised from 6,000 cfs to 10,000 cfs from 8/10 to 8/22. Delta inflows were raised 4000 cfs during the period to accommodate increased exports (Figure 7). The increasing inflows helped bring warm water from the interior Central Valley into the Delta (Figure 8).
Such conditions should be avoided at all costs. This can be achieved by limiting exports, reservoir releases, or both. August is a peak month of the fall-run salmon migration into the Sacramento Valley. Such high water temperatures would be lethal or avoided with the run being delayed and salmon holding in the Bay. The Delta smelt population concentrates primarily in the low salinity zone, and water temperatures higher than 25oC are lethal to Delta smelt.
I acknowledge the difficulty in meeting these proposed standards, especially in drier years, but they must be adopted to protect the salmon and smelt. New standards are essential for the Delta’s recovery.
- A tide gate on False River would help accomplish this objective. ↩