New Biological Opinions Released

NOAA research scientists were surprised when the new biological opinions came out this week. When they submitted their report in July, they thought the BiOp would be a “Jeopardy” opinion, meaning the project would result in jeopardizing listed fish species. But it went through a team of reviewers (including at NOAA) and the final BiOp is a “No Jeopardy.” Hmmm.

So what changed? After the July findings, US Bureau of Reclamation (in charge of the Central Valley Project) and the Department of Water Resources who operate the State Water Project, continued to “clarify and refine the proposed action” to address the NOAA Scientists’ concerns. This resulted in a final proposed action, transmitted to NOAA and USFWS on October 17, 2019. NOAA and USFWS (not the scientists who worked on the original “Jeopardy” report – then who?) then substantially revised their analyses of anticipated effects. On October 21, 2019, they transmitted their conclusions to Reclamation and DWR that the proposed action is consistent with the requirements of the ESA. That’s a pretty fast turn-around for a 900 plus page report.

Call me a skeptic, but it looks fishy to me. I’m sure more will come out about the report, but when I read the Terms and Conditions, I was disappointed how weak the wording was. There are no target results, no measurables. Just a lot of conditions saying Reclamation & DWR need to continue to monitor how the fish are doing. They just need to let NMFS know how the fish are doing. But no corrective action or results requirements.

The last thing the Delta needs is more water taken away. Fish need habitat and more water. We had a high water year, and the numbers of fish show how valuable it is. We have record high numbers of juvenile winter-run passing through Red Bluff and on their way down to the Delta right now (record at least in the past 10-20 years).

This new BiOps replaces 2008 USFWS BiOp and 2009 NMFS biological opinions that were to be in effect for 20 years. USFWS covers non-anadromous (inland) fish such as Delta smelt, and NOAA/NMFS covers anadromous fish (salmon, steelhead and green sturgeon) as well as marine mammals such as the southern resident killer whale (which is listed as endangered since it feeds on winter-run Chinook salmon).


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