Conflicting Needs

Two recent news articles (both by Dan Batcher) illustrate the conflicts behind the Delta Issues. On the one hand are the water contractors who want more and more water for the Central Valley corporate agribusinesses that have been expanding, in particular, almond growing for Asian markets. On the other hand are the needs for the same water by Delta Farmers and Commercial Salmon Fisherman. Read on for an update on those two articles, why we care about salmon, and other recent events including Tuesday’s Senate Hearing on the Bay and Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP).

We haven’t heard much about the plight of the Salmon Fishermen since the closure of Commercial Salmon Fishing off the coast of California and Oregon in 2008 and 2009, but Dan Batcher’s May 15th article gives us an update.

May 15th – How the Lack of Fresh Water Flows is Impacting Salmon and the Salmon Industry

May 15, 2013 – (From Dan Batcher’s article): “As Governor Jerry Brown continues to push for the construction of the peripheral tunnels under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) a new analysis released on May 13 by the Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reveals that the salmon fishery is limping along at only 20 percent of the population goal required by state and federal law.”

“The landmark Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA), passed by Congress in 1992 under political pressure from a big coalition of recreational anglers, commercial fishermen and environmentalists, set a goal of rebuilding salmon runs to almost a million adult fish by 2002.”

“‘More than a decade past the law’s deadline, the salmon fishery continues to struggle due, in large part, to excessive pumping of fresh water from the Bay-Delta that deprives salmon of the cold, flowing rivers and healthy habitat they need to thrive,’ according to a joint Press Release from GGSA and NRDC.”

“The groups say if current laws were enforced, a restored salmon fishery would ‘generate billions in new revenue and add thousands of jobs from Santa Barbara to northern Oregon. These jobs are tied to commercial fishing men and women, fresh and salt water recreational anglers, coastal communities, tribes, fish processors, equipment manufacturers, marinas, and food and hospitality services.'”

State and federal agencies can step-up their efforts to restore salmon by acting on the following recommendations:

  • The Department of the Interior should reform Central Valley Project water contracts and revamp its salmon rebuilding efforts in response to a scathing independent review. Specifically, Interior should better manage water and restoration funds dedicated to salmon recovery, incorporate the latest scientific information and appoint a manager to be accountable for the progress of the restoration program.
  • The State Water Resources Control Board should set stronger standards to protect salmon in the San Joaquin River and the Bay-Delta ecosystem, in proceedings to revise these standards that are currently underway.
  • The California Department of Water Resources should incorporate salmon doubling into the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process.
  • The California Department of Fish and Wildlife should launch an ambitious state salmon restoration effort.
  • The U.S. Department of the Interior should aggressively implement NRDC’s agreement to restore the salmon run on the San Joaquin River.”

“The construction of the 35 mile long twin tunnels under the Delta could hasten the extinction of Central Valley chinook salmon, Delta smelt and other fish species, according to state, federal and independent scientists.”

“Other threats to salmon recovery include Congressman Jim Costa’s legislation (see next report) to exempt the Central Valley and State Water projects from Delta pumping restrictions required under the Endangered Species Act to protect Central Valley salmon and Delta smelt” (see next section below).

Read the entire article Dan Batcher’s article “Bay-Delta salmon population just one fifth of mandated goal”.

May 12th – Desert Agribusinesses Attack the Salmon

Meanwhile, They’re at it again! On May 12, 2013, Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA) introduced legislation to exempt the Central Valley and State Water projects from Delta pumping restrictions required under the Endangered Species Act to protect Central Valley salmon and Delta smelt. See Dan Batcher’s article “Costa Introduces Legislation to Strip ESA Protections for Delta Fish” for more details.

This is reminiscent of the addition to the Senate Jobs Bill attempted by Sen. Feinstein in February 2011 to suspend the Environmental Species Act (ESA) protections for Chinook salmon and mandate certain pumping regimes from the Delta. That line item to the Jobs Bill was in response to a request from Feinstein’s friend and Paramount Farms’ owner, Stewart Resnick.

“The current Costa bill is supported by San Joaquin Valley water districts, including the Westlands Water District, Friant Water Authority, and the San Luis and Delta Mendota Water Authority. Other backers of the bill include the Latino Water Coalition, an agribusiness ‘Astroturf’ group, and [of course] Paramount Farms, owned by agribusiness tycoon Stewart Resnick, the largest orchard fruit grower in the world.” Many of these are the same agencies that we are supposed to entrust with protecting the Delta through adaptive management of the new pumps.

Meanwhile, Dick Haggerty, in the Modesto Bee on May 14th lamented that “It is so sad to drive down Interstate 5 in the southern portion of our valley and see miles of dead and dying orchards, all sacrificed to the migration of a few thousand silvery fish” and he goes on to describe the “beauty” of driving south where “it seems you never will leave the sight of almond orchards. They border our highways for hundreds of miles” and “the appearance of cotton fields somewhere south of Merced…those fluffy white fields.”

Hello – Mr. Haggerty may love to see almonds everywhere but the increase in almonds growing in the desert has been what has caused the increase in water exports from the Delta south so that today, the typical yearly exports are more than half of the river’s water versus the more reasonable level of less than 50% during the 80’s and 90’s. Growing water intensive crops like almonds and cotton in the desert is what is causing the water crisis.

And let’s go back to Mr. Haggerty’s prior statement “all sacrificed to the migration of a few thousand silvery fish.” Let’s talk about those fish.

Salmon – A Keystone Species

Salmon are a keystone species. Keystone species are those that are key to a multitude of other species. Without them the ecosystem would unravel. This is not an environmentalist’s exaggeration, but scientific fact.

Watch the video about the salmon crisis in British Columbia to learn how important salmon are. It’s over an hour long but if you even watch the first part, it identifies the key role salmon play in the ecosystem.

When you see the pictures of the dead salmon on the Frazier River you can understand the concern raised in the video. The salmon in B.C. are being killed in mass from diseases from the fish farms and what happens in Canada will effect Washington and drive hunting whales south. Likewise what happens to the Sacramento King Salmon run effects all of us from California to Southern Washington and continuing to export water at the current level is causing their demise.

Who needs salmon?

The Controvery is on-going

May 13th Kate Poole, NRDC, blogs “A Healthy Fishing Industry Is Just One of the Benefits of Strong Endangered Species Protections” echoing the recommendations made by the NRDC.

An interesting exchange is provided in the comments when a constant commenter, Mike Wade, from the California Farm Water Coalition, tries to dispute that improved delta fresh water flows would really help the fish but his remarks are easily refuted by both Kate and another reader.

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