(This is historical information and hasn’t been updated for the one tunnel project)

  • Lack of Fresh Water Flows – Because of the lack of fresh water:
    • The Salmon (and other fish) populations are rapidly declining. There’s many stressors causing decline of the fish species but only more fresh water flows can truly solve the problem.
    • Invasive species (weeds blocking waterways, toxic blue-green algae) have been increasing.
    • Water quality has been decreasing due to higher salt content in the San Joaquin River and salinity intrusion from the ocean.
  • Reverse Flows – The huge amounts of water currently being exported from the South Delta to send south combined with low flows in the San Joaquin River result in the the Delta flowing South at times instead of West out through the Golden Gate. The problem here is less the reverse flows and more the amount of water being exported, particularly in dry years.
  • Gates – Gates projects, like the 2009 2-Gates Fish Protection Project, have been shown to cause damage to migrating fish. Yet they are still a major component in state planning. A dam was installed in False River 2015. A temporary dam has also been installed often at the Head of Old River.
  • Bills – Bills have been proposed and continue to be proposed at the state and federal level to remove protection to endangered species, such as salmon, in order for the water contractors to increase water exports.
  • Bass – Bass are not a threat to the Delta; but steps continue to be considered to take steps to eliminate them, calling them an “invasive species” even though they have peacefully coincided with salmon for years and are not proven to be an actual threat.

Lack of Fresh Water Flows

The ecology of the Delta is in crisis. The salmon and other fish species are near extinction. There is one simple reason – too much water is being exported to send south. Although the Bay and Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) is pages and pages (8,000) about other reasons why the fish are failing and how they can export even more water and save the fish by adding habitat and other projects, the plain and simple answer is that the cause is too much water being exported for the estuary to survive. As a result:

  • Delta fish species including salmon neared extinction. To try to save the salmon, all Commercial salmon fishing was halted off the entire coast of California and Oregon during 2008/2009.
  • Salt water intrusion threatens Delta communities’ drinking water and Delta farms.
  • Farmers to the south, near I-5, have negotiated water contracts for more water than can be safely exported. This has created a lose-lose situation for the state.

An interactive map of California Water Rights shines a light on the problem; namely “Currently, water rights holders claim they divert in aggregate approximately 250 million acre feet of water each year. California receives 71 million acre feet of usable water from annual precipitation.” And you wonder why we are having water wars?

“For the past century, powerful special interests claimed ownership of both real and imaginary water through political contributions. Other states outgrew this corrupt practice long ago, but not California. The California Water Rights Atlas may be the sunlight that finally breaks the fog bank of chaos and mismanagement that cripples the state’s water system,” says Former Brown Administration Resources Secretary Huey Johnson, president of the Resource Renewal Institute that publishes the interactive map.

Because the farmers near I-5 in the South believe they have rights to more water than exists, the plant thirsty crops like cotton and almonds. The chart below shows the increase in almond acreage over the years, one of the primary reasons there has been an increase in water exports south.

Increase of almond acreage over the years

Note that the increase continued even through the drought years of 2008/2009 when Commercial salmon fishing was halted off the entire coast of California and Oregon to save the salmon; even when the farmers complained about the pumps being stopped by court order during those years to save the equally threatened Delta smelt.

Start with the Delta Flows: Step one of the Delta Stewardship Council’s “Delta Plan” and the BDCP was supposed to be to start with the science about how much fresh water flow the Delta needed to remain healthy. The State Water Resources Control Board provided that answer in August 2010: 60% to 75% depending on how wet/dry the year was. Current exports exceed 50%. The DSC did not like that answer as it meant decreasing exports, not increasing them. Hence they have spent years and hundreds of millions of dollars to try to “find” a different answer. Meanwhile the fish suffer.

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Salmon in the Delta may become Extinct

As a result of increased exporting, the salmon population neared extinction during the drought years of 2008 through 2014.
Water exports South – 5-year averages through 2007

Decline of the salmon
Decline of the salmon over that same timeframe

The correlation seems quite clear. Fish need fresh water to survive. Stop the pumps, they begin to recover.

The United States National Marine Fisheries Service says that the tunnels will cause Georgiana Slough and the Sacramento River to reverse flow at times and may case extinction of Salmon in the Sacramento River.

Reverse Flows currently in the San Joaquin

The huge amounts of water currently exported cause the water in the Delta at times to flow south to the pumps instead of west to the ocean.
This sucks smelt into the pumps and may confuse salmon who need strong currents to the ocean to help them make their journey. The answer is not the tunnels, the answer is to export less water overall – especially during drought months.

If instead a tunnel is built and takes water north before it flows through the Delta, there will be even more salt water intrusion into the Delta farms and local water supply.

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Other Threats to the Delta – Gates and Barriers

In 2009 the 2-Gates “Fish Protection” Project was planned for installation in October 2009 but was postponed due to objections by the STCDA with backing from the Discovery Bay and surrounding communities. In 2016, the False Rive Salinity Gates was installed for a few months.

Gates and “operational barriers” are not safe for boaters to pass through. They severely impact boating, impact safety rescue operations (coast guard, marine sheriffs – could cost lives), impact local economies, and negatively effect affect the fish and wildlife. The list of concerns and issues with installing gates in primary navigation waterways is long and significant.

The California WaterFix includes “Alternative 9” which would install many barriers throughout the Delta, turning Middle River into a virtual pipeline, blocking all boats. In addition, other gates would block boats from going from Old River to the Channel. Basically, boats in the South Delta west of Middle River (Discovery Bay, Orwood, Bethel Island) would be stopped from leaving except by False River which has been closed in the past.

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Bills – Removing Environmental Protections for Salmon

Other types of efforts that have been underway include the 2010 “Feinstein Senate Jobs Bill Amendment” to mandate increased pumping levels and suspend protection for the chinook salmon (an amendment which could finally cause the destruction of the remaining salmon in California). This amendment is currently on-hold but Sen. Feinstein has said she “reserves the right to bring it back should it become necessary.”

More recently, in May 2013, US Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA) has 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 for more details. Or read the text of the bill at http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr1927/text.

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 addition was in response to requests from her friend and Paramount Farms’ 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 coures] Paramount Farms, owned by agribusiness tycoon Stewart Resnick, the largest orchard fruit grower in the world.

These are the same people, backers of the BDCP, who wonder why we don’t trust them to operate the pumps in a way that will save the Delta!

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Pointing Fingers at the Bass

In November 2011, a proposal was being considered by the California Fish & Game due to a Agricultural [Westlands] lawsuit which would eliminate the striped bass from the Delta. It tried to claim that the striped bass were causing the demise of salmon and smelt, NOT excessive pumping of water (opposite all scientific evidence – read more). Obviously, that was smoke and mirrors.

FACT: When salmon populations are high, bass populations are high. When salmon populations are low, bass populations are also low. The bass do not feed off or impact the salmon.

Fortunately the California Fish and Game Commission in February 2012 took final action to reject the Department of Fish and Game’s controversial proposed changes to striped bass regulations. That was a good thing for the Delta. The bass fish industry provides millions of dollars to the Delta local economies. Bass have co-existed with the salmon for over 100 years.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to mean anything to the DWR/State. They are still listing projects to remove the bass under their list of “Conservation Measures”.

Seven species of fish in the Delta are listed as threatened or endangered, including Delta smelt, salmon, and steelhead. Although the ultimate cause of decline in these species is over-exporting water to send to the Central Valley, there is a constant search for ways to increase their numbers without any water costs. Such was the case with the California Fish & Game proposal and in the end it was obvious the striped bass are not the issue. It’s the pumps.

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