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Push Comes to Shove in Delta Water Crisis

SACRAMENTO (CN) - Conservation and sport-fishing groups filed protests Tuesday against the California State Water Resources Control Board, demanding it forgo a proposal to increase the amount of water pumped from the drought-stricken Delta.

A Temporary Urgency Change Petition (TUCP) filed by the Department of Water Resources and The United States Bureau of Reclamation on Jan. 23 asks the state water board to modify water flow restrictions for 180 days due to California's historic drought.

The environmental group Restore the Delta and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance announced the protests Tuesday on the eve of the water board's public hearing, where it will discuss the TUCP that could increase the amount of water pumped out of the Delta for sale to users south.

Restore the Delta says the issue should be handled at the state level and that if the water board approves the TUCP, it will harm Delta water quality to satisfy the needs of Central Valley agribusiness.

"Senator [Dianne] Feinstein and the usual list of Central Valley congressional reps are using their federal positions to intrude on issues that are supposed to be settled at the state level, all for the benefit of these growers in three of California's 58 drought-stricken counties," Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, said in a statement.

Protection of fish species and salinity control in the Delta are the main reasons for the protest. Both state and federal regulators are responsible for the damage to the Delta smelt and Chinook salmon populations, the environmentalists say.

Many salmon swim through the Delta before spawning and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has gone as far as transporting juvenile Chinook salmon to increase their chances of surviving warmer water temperatures.

The regulators' water measures failed to protect the salmon in 2014 and the proposed TUCP will push the species to the brink of extinction, the groups say.

"The Bureau of Reclamation killed 95 percent of the fish it's mandated to protect under the Clean Water Act," said water rights attorney Mike Jackson. "The state water board took the word of the regulator."

Thomas Howard, executive director of the State Water Resources Control Board, will act on the TUCP before the workshop and public hearing. Both sides of California's water debate figure to be well represented.

"We are expecting busloads of farmers and farm workers at the protest," Barrigan-Parrilla said.

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