California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Water Project Operations

What is the Water Project Operations Unit?

Delta cross channel

Photo by Department of Water Resources

The Water Operations Unit represents CDFW on multiple work teams that make real-time water operation decisions for the State Water Project (SWP) and Central Valley Project (CVP). The Unit coordinates with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on several fisheries technical teams that make recommendations for adjusting operations to minimize adverse effects on state and federally listed fish species and to ensure compliance with the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).

State Water Project and Central Valley Project

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) operates the SWP and the United States Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) operates the CVP. Both projects are water storage and delivery systems composed of reservoirs, aqueducts, power plants, and pumping plants. Their main purpose is to store water and distribute it to urban and agricultural water suppliers in Northern California, the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley, the Central Coast, and Southern California.

For more information regarding the CVP/SWP operations, visit the Reclamation and DWR websites.

Compliance with the Federal and California Endangered Species Acts

In 2008, the USFWS issued a biological opinion (BiOp) on the long-term operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project (CVP/SWP operations) and determined that the CVP/SWP operations are likely to jeopardize the continued existence and adversely modify the critical habitat of federally listed Delta smelt.

In 2009, the NMFS issued a BiOp on the CVP/SWP operations and determined that the CVP/SWP operations are likely to jeopardize the continued existence and adversely modify the critical habitat of federally listed Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, and the Southern Distinct Population Segment of North American green sturgeon.

For more information regarding the biological opinions, visit the USFWS and NMFS websites.

In 2009 CDFW issued DWR an incidental take permit (ITP) for the on-going and long-term operation of the SWP existing facilities in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta for the protection of longfin smelt. CDFW also issued DWR consistency determinations for the NMFS BiOp and USFWS BiOp.

The longfin smelt incidental take permit and the CDFW consistency determinations can be found at the following links:

State and/or Federal Listing Status of Native Fish Species
Common Name Scientific Name Listing Status
Delta smelt Hypomesus transpacificus FT, SE
longfin smelt Spirinchus thaleichthys FC, ST
Chinook salmon, Central Valley spring-run ESU Onorhynchus tshawytscha FT, ST
Chinook salmon, Sacramento River winter-run ESU Onorhynchus tshawytscha FE, SE
steelhead, Central Valley DPS Onorhynchus mykiss FT
green sturgeon DPS Acipenser medirostris FT
F = Federally-listed under ESA | E = Endangered | C = Candidate Species for Listing|
ESU = Evolutionary Significant Unit | S = State-listed under CESA | T = Threatened |
DPS = Distinct Population Segment

CDFW's Role in Water Operations

Water Operations Working Groups

The CVP/SWP operations are informed through a structured decision making process designed to reduce the adverse effects on federally and state listed fish species. Multiple work teams convene regularly to review real-time hydrology and fish data. Based on this information, work teams make recommendations to the Water Operations Management Team (WOMT). WOMT considers recommendations from multiple work teams to inform changes in water operations. The Water Operations Unit participates in numerous work teams; two of the work teams which the Unit are heavily involved in are the Smelt Working Group (SWG) and the Delta Operations for Salmonids and Sturgeon Work Group (DOSS).

Smelt Working Group

The SWG consists of experts in the fields of hydrology and the biology of Delta smelt and longfin smelt (collectively smelt) from the CDFW, USFWS, DWR, Reclamation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The SWG provides guidance on hydrology and smelt life history to reduce the adverse effects of CVP/SWP operations. When appropriate, the SWG provides recommendations for real-time management of operations to WOMT and USFWS, consistent with the USFWS BiOp and the ITP. The SWG also closely coordinates with DOSS.

Smelt Working Group Notes and Determinations

Delta Operations for Salmonids and Sturgeon Work Group

DOSS is comprised of biologists, hydrologists and other staff with relevant expertise from CDFW, USFWS, NMFS, DWR and Reclamation. DOSS provides guidance on hydrology and listed salmonids and green sturgeon life history to reduce the adverse effects of CVP/SWP operations. When appropriate, DOSS provides recommendations for real-time management of operations to WOMT and NFMS, consistent with the NMFS BiOp.

Delta Operations for Salmonids and Sturgeon Working Group Notes and Recommendations

Water Operations Management Team

WOMT is comprised of senior representatives from CDFW, USFWS, NMFS, DWR and Reclamation. The recommendations of the technical groups, along with summaries of supporting information are conveyed to WOMT. The team considers the recommendations of the technical groups, water supply costs and other factors and then provides DWR and Reclamation with appropriate operations guidance.

Water Operations Management Team Decisions and Summaries

For more information, contact Chad Dibble at Chad.Dibble@wildlife.ca.gov or (916) 445-1202.