California officials: Delta plan to help fish survival

FRESNO — California water officials said Wednesday that a $14 billion twin-tunnel plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta would restore the ecosystem and reduce deaths of threatened fish, although during dry years the delta smelt would be killed at the same rate as today.

During water-scarce years, the existing pumps in the south portion of the delta would continue to divert most of the water, cause reverse flows and kill the fish that get caught in the machinery, according to an analysis in new draft chapters released by the California Resources Agency.

Officials said the plan does provide a cumulative net gain in fish populations over time. There would be significant improvements for the smelt during wet years, they said, because water would be diverted from the north portion of the delta, where fish would not be sucked into deadly pumps.

In addition, the creation of thousands of acres of tidal wetlands would increase smelt habitat and food for the species.

"We don't intend to have improvements in every season," said Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources. "We do hope to have a net effect that provides for fish recovery."

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