SAN FRANCISCO — The Trump administration said Friday it will look at revving up water deliveries to farmers as part of California’s Central Valley Project, the largest federal water project in the United States, in what environmental groups called a threat to protections for struggling native salmon and other endangered species.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation formally served notice it would begin looking at changing the operation of the massive California water project to maximize water deliveries. Spokeswoman Erin Curtis called it the first step in what would likely be an 18-month analysis.
The water project is a network of 18 dams and reservoirs and 500 miles of canals and aqueducts that draw water from the Delta and its tributaries. The fragile estuary west of Stockton is the largest river delta on the West Coast of the Americas.
Launched in the 1930s, the water project has helped make California’s Central Valley the United States’ richest farm region. It also has contributed to driving several once-plentiful species of smelt, salmon and other native animals toward extinction, biologists and environmental groups say.
New data made available this month show that the Delta smelt, for example, have declined to yet another record-low level. Extensive surveys over the course of four months turned up just two smelt.
A decade ago, federal biologists found that water withdrawals are jeopardizing smelt and other species and put in place a set of rules determining how much water can safely be pumped south. Doug Obegi, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council environmental group, contended in an email Friday that the new announcement represented “the latest attempt by the Trump administration to roll back protections for salmon and other endangered native fisheries ... in order to increase water supplies” for the state’s agricultural water agencies.