Delta smelt – endangered, finger-size fish that smell like cucumbers and live in the Sacramento Delta – could make the current drought even harder for Southern California. Even about 400-odd miles away, the delta can have a major impact on Southern California’s water, where billions of gallons of delta water are used every year. This year, the 2-inch fish are throwing their weight around. Invasive species and pesticides in the delta mean the delta smelt population has been on the decline. When their yearly migration took them past the pumps that suck delta water down to Southern California, too many of the cucumbery fish were pulled into the pumps, said Sue Sims, spokeswoman for the State Water Project. The SWP, which distributes delta water across the state, then took the unprecedented step of shutting the pumps off for more than a week in June. Southern California still received all of its water because the SWP drained a massive reservoir down to a quarter of its original capacity, and the pumps are back up to full speed again. But water levels in the delta and the reservoir are still low, and smelt will spawn again next year – and the pumps could be shut off once more. “What happened this year will most certainly happen again,” Sims said. “Nobody up here thinks this is a one-time occurrence. “We’ve got a delta that’s broken that needs to be fixed,” she continued. “We’ve got to figure out a better way to move clean, safe water through the delta and protect the species that live there.” The prospect of another shutoff is worrying to local water officials. At the Metropolitan Water District, a coalition of cities and water agencies spanning six Southern California counties, water resources manager Stephen Arakawa said the MWD has water stored in reservoirs and groundwater designed for use in dry years. But this isn’t just a dry year for Southern California. Usually wetter Northern California is also in drought. It’s the eighth year of drought for the Colorado River, from which MWD used to get about half its water and now only gets a third. Finally, the smelt could cut MWD’s allocation of delta water by as much as 50 percent, according to some of the solutions being proposed, Arakawa said. That’s a lot of strain to put on MWD’s storage, he said. “If we’re facing multiple years of the smelt cutback, that storage is only going to last so long,” he said. “If we have another dry year, that will make it even worse.” MWD is already making do with 60 percent of the water that it requested from the delta for the year, Arakawa said. At that level, the district’s usual efforts to put “replenishment water” into the ground to buoy the water table have been curtailed. There’s no replenishment water available from the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, either, said General Manager Tim Jochem. Another pump shutdown in the delta would force the district to rely even more on storage, he said. “We’ll draw down our Southern California storage even more, putting us closer to the point where mandatory rationing is a possibility,” Jochem said. The cutback on “spreading water,” as replenishment water is also known, is drying up local spreading grounds, like those north of Glendora and Azusa. The Upper Canyon Basin Spreading Grounds – hefty lake-like basins where untreated water from sources like the MWD seeps into the ground to feed groundwater supplies – look like nearly-drained bathtubs. The basin water levels have dropped 60 feet in the past six months, said Steve Patton, Glendora water division manager. There’s still 20 to 30 feet to go before they hit bottom, he added. Glendora still receives enough treated drinking water from MWD, but the City Council asked residents this week to reduce their water use by 10 percent. “This is the lowest I’ve seen it, and I’ve been here 15 years,” Patton said. “The water’s just not available.” [email protected] (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2730 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!