Tag Archives: delta

Bodega Bay to be release site for quarter-million hatchery salmon

 Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The hatchery-reared fish will be trucked directly to Sonoma County from the state-run Mokelumne River hatchery near Lodi as part of a continuing effort to augment California’s declining Chinook salmon stocks, which took an especially hard hit during the prolonged drought.

Modeled after similar programs elsewhere on the California coast, the operation involves the use of a custom-made net pen to be positioned in the water, dockside, at Spud Point Marina in order to receive the smolts. The pen will provide a place for the young fish to adjust after their tanker ride and to acclimate to salt water before they head toward open water with the outgoing tide a few hours after their arrival.

The key advantage of such an effort is it allows the young fish to bypass the obstacles they would otherwise face getting downstream to the ocean, past unscreened water pumps and other dangers in the Sacramento River/San Joaquin River system, enhancing their chance of surviving to adulthood.

“The delta pumps just eat all those fish coming down, the little smolts coming down the river, and this makes sure that they make it northward to Bodega Bay, as a start,” said veteran Petaluma angler Victor Gonella, founder of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, a sport and commercial industry group that put the project together.“This is just really good news for the fishermen in Bodega, the businesses in Bodega, anybody who loves salmon,” Gonella said. “We’re all hopeful that it will continue for years to come as we continue this process.”

Read more at: Bodega Bay to be release site for quarter-million hatchery salmon

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Op Ed: California salmon on the brink of disaster

Brian Geagan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sen. Dianne Feinstein just handed the future of California salmon and our fishing economy over to the Trump administration.

During the closing hours of this year’s session, Feinstein worked with congressmen representing big growers in the Central Valley to stick a knife in one of Sen. Barbara Boxer’s greatest accomplishments and also into California’s salmon and coastal communities.

Over the past two years, Boxer painstakingly crafted a bipartisan bill to fund water projects nationwide, a rarity in the age of a gridlocked Congress. That bill included restoration projects for Lake Tahoe and the Great Lakes, funding for the lead contamination disaster in Flint, Michigan and other worthy provisions.

At the last minute, Feinstein, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Central Valley growers conspired to stick an anti-salmon rider on that bipartisan bill. That’s right. Feinstein forced Congress to decide whether to help Michigan children suffering from lead poisoning or California salmon and coastal communities.

Because of this double-dealing, Boxer was forced to lobby — unsuccessfully — against her own bill. This was the last thing she did before leaving the Senate after 24 effective years in office. We should all thank Boxer for her passionate work for California.

Feinstein’s bill gives the incoming administration authority to waive protections for San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta salmon that federal judges and biologists have found to be based on the best information available today. Under President Donald Trump, those weakened rules could result in a disaster for salmon and the jobs that rely on healthy salmon runs.

If you have any doubt about where Trump stands on California’s environment and fishing industry, last June — after the driest four years in state history — he said that there is “no drought” in California. He’s already promised to gut protections for California’s keystone salmon runs to deliver more water to the Central Valley grower who supported him.

Trump and Feinstein appear not to know, or care, that the rivers that flow into the delta and bay support the most important salmon runs south of the Columbia River. Sonoma County is doing a great deal to protect local salmon, but most of the salmon caught off the California and Oregon coasts come from the bay and the delta. Feinstein’s legislation allows Trump to devastate those salmon runs.

Read more at: Close to Home: California salmon on the brink of disaster | The Press Democrat   Brian Geagan is a recreational fisherman and Healdsburg resident.

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living, Water, Wildlife

SF Bay ecosystem collapsing as rivers diverted, scientists report

Carolyn Lochhead, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Evidence of what scientists are calling the planet’s Sixth Mass Extinction is appearing in San Francisco Bay and its estuary, the largest on the Pacific Coast of North and South America, according to a major new study.

Inflow to SF Bay from delta. Unimpaired flow is what would occur if no water was diverted from rivers upstream. (Bay Institute 2016.)

So little water is flowing from the rivers that feed the estuary, which includes the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, Suisun Marsh and the bay, that its ecosystem is collapsing, scientists who conducted the study say.

Human extraction of water from the rivers is not only pushing the delta smelt toward extinction, they say, but also threatening dozens more fish species and many birds and marine mammals, including orca whales, that depend on the estuary’s complex food web.

The findings by scientists at the Bay Institute, an environmental group, underline conclusions already reached by state regulators and are intended to buttress the environmental case for potentially drastic water restrictions in San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area, and among farmers in the northern San Joaquin Valley.

The State Water Resources Control Board moved last month to require that Californians leave far more water — 40 percent of what would naturally flow during spring — in the San Joaquin River and its three main tributaries, the Tuolumne, Merced and Stanislaus rivers, in an effort to save fish species.

That would double the amount of water protected from human use in most years, according to the board. Last year, only 10 percent of the San Joaquin River, the second-largest in the state, reached the delta, as the rest was diverted or stored upstream. The Tuolumne, which is San Francisco’s main water supply, is one of the state’s most over-tapped rivers, with about 80 percent of its normal flow directed to human uses.

Jon Rosenfield, the lead scientist on the Bay Institute report, said people take so much water from the rivers that the estuary’s entire ecosystem is in collapse.

“Our estuary is being choked” by a lack of fresh water, Rosenfield said. Over the past four decades, he said, urban users and farmers have diverted so much water from the rivers that in all but the wettest years, severe drought has become a permanent condition for wildlife.

UC Davis fish biologist Peter Moyle, who is not connected with the study and had not viewed its results, confirmed in a telephone interview that native fish species in the estuary face dire conditions.

Read more at: SF Bay ecosystem collapsing as rivers diverted, scientists report – San Francisco Chronicle

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Sustainable Living, Water, Wildlife

Environmental groups ask California officials to save endangered fish in San Francisco Bay Estuary from extinction

Water Maven, MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK

With the critically endangered Delta smelt on the brink of extinction, Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and The Bay Institute today called upon the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to issue emergency regulations and release the fresh water the smelt need to survive. Water is currently being diverted away from key waterways that feed the San Francisco Bay Estuary, depriving the fish of essential freshwater flows and limiting its chances of survival.

Click here to read the 12-page letter to the State Water Board.

Following are statements from Defenders, NRDC, and The Bay Institute:

Kim Delfino, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife: “Decades of state and federal agencies’ mismanagement of the San Francisco Bay Estuary, compounded by several years of drought, is causing catastrophic harm to wildlife in the estuary. The Delta smelt is circling the drain because this iconic estuary has been starved of water. We are calling on the State Water Resources Control Board to comply with its legal obligations and save this fish before it is gone forever.”

Kate Poole, Water and Wildlife Project director for the Natural Resources Defense Council: “The Delta smelt is the canary in the coal mine for the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary, and its condition indicates that the estuary is suffocating. Water agencies failed to heed the urgent call of biologists to keep more fresh water flowing through the Delta this summer to revive the ailing habitat. Now it’s time for the State Water Board to step in and stave off extinction of the first in a long line of imperiled Delta species, including native salmon, steelhead and sturgeon.”

Gary Bobker, Rivers and Delta program director at The Bay Institute: “It’s shocking enough to realize that what was once the most common resident fish of the San Francisco Bay Estuary is now the rarest, because of decades of mismanagement that the drought has only made worse. It’s unthinkable to contemplate that the Delta smelt may go extinct this year because state and federal officials continue to fail to act on the science that shows that providing a small portion of the flow that once sustained this species – and many others now in decline – could help prevent that from happening. This unique species’ fate is in the hands of the State Water Board now.”

Read more at: MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK – Water news

Filed under Habitats, Water, Wildlife

Critical index finds smelt nearly extinct in Sacramento Delta

Ryan Sabalow, SACRAMENTO BEE

Delta smelt have hovered close to extinction for years, but biologists say they’ve never seen anything like this spring.

“There’s nothing between them and extinction, as far as I can tell,” said Peter Moyle, a UC Davis biologist who has studied smelt and other Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta fish species for nearly four decades.

Delta smelt abundance graphLast week, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife released the results of spring trawling surveys that track adult Delta smelt. The surveys found just handfuls of fish across the huge area where they are known to spawn. The low catches were a marked drop from even the record low numbers of Delta smelt tallied in 2015’s trawls.

Steve Martarano, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the index is used in part to help biologists estimate the entire population of the fish in the Delta.

Since the surveys began in 2002, the highest the Delta smelt population has ever been is about 600,000. Last year, the federal government estimated there were around 112,000. This year, biologists say there are likely just 13,000 fish, Martarano said.

“That’s alarmingly small for a fish that only lives for a year in a body of water as large as the Bay Delta,” he said.

Moyle said he remembers when he first started doing fish research in the Delta nearly four decades ago, and the smelt were among the most numerous fish species, numbering in the millions. He said that the low numbers now mean any sudden change to the smelt’s habitat – such as a sudden shift in water quality from a small pesticide spill – could kill off the entire population.

“It’s the indication that we’ve totally failed in our ability to manage Delta smelt to keep them from extinction,” Moyle said.

The Delta smelt, widely viewed as a bellwether species indicative of the estuary’s overall health, are an ongoing flashpoint in California’s water wars. In recent weeks, the fish has also taken on symbolic importance in the national political debate.

Read more at: Critical index finds smelt nearly extinct in Sacramento Delta

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Water, Wildlife

A chaotic mess: State Water Board suspends delta tunnels deadlines

Dan Bacher, DAILY KOS

Water Board documents

The State Water Resources Control Board announced on March 29 that they are suspending the upcoming deadlines for the California Water Fix/Delta Tunnels water rights change petition in response to a request by the state and federal water agencies to extend dates and deadlines for the scheduled hearing, along with a number of other requests either to dismiss or delay the petition.

On March 28, 2016, the Water Board hearing officers for the California WaterFix  water right change petition hearing received a letter from the Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation requesting a 60-day continuance of all dates and deadlines associated with the hearing.

On the same day,  the hearing officers also received a request from several parties to dismiss the petition. Then on March 29,  the State Water Board received additional requests to delay and stay the hearing, pending resolution of several matters, according to a letter from Tam M. Doduc and Felicia Marcus, State Water Board WaterFix Co-Hearing Officers.

In their March 29 letter, ten representatives of environmental, fishing and farming groups called on Doduc and Marcus to dismiss the petition, stating, “We believe there are much better uses of everyone’s time, such as spending the necessary time to update the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan to adequately protect current beneficial uses.”  (fishsniffer.com/..). In response to the various requests, the upcoming deadlines are suspended.  “A ruling will be issued in the near future formally addressing the requests and providing additional information about the hearing schedule,” said Doduc and Marcus.

Read more at: A Chaotic Mess: State Water Board Suspends Delta Tunnels Deadlines

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water, Wildlife

A solution for California’s water woes

Will Parrish, EAST BAY EXPRESS

In a decision bursting with symbolism, the California State Water Resources Control Board recently announced its intention to draw down the main water supply reservoir for a half-million people to only 12 percent of capacity by September 30. Lake Folsom on the American River — the main water source for Roseville, Folsom, and other Sacramento suburbs — will plummet to 120,000 acre feet by that date, according to a forecast by the water board, which announced the plan at an unusually lively Sacramento workshop on June 24.

The artificial lake will therefore be only months away from turning into a dreaded “dead pool,” a state in which a reservoir becomes so low it cannot drain by gravity through the dam’s outlet. Such an outcome would leave area residents scrambling for water — if recent predictions of an El Niño weather pattern fizzle and rain fails to appear later in 2015. If that were to happen, then Folsom could be a harbinger for the rest of California.

Indeed, as the American West lurches through its fourth summer of an historic drought, numerous major reservoirs are at or near historic lows relative to the time of year. New Melones Reservoir on the Stanislaus River in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, which was only 16 percent full as of last week, appears likely to meet the same fate as Folsom this year. A study by UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2008, three years before the current drought began, warned that the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead (which supplies much of Southern California), has a fifty-fifty chance of running dry by 2021.

State and federal water management officials have contended that the current state of emergency has come to pass due to a natural disaster beyond their control. Water board member Steven Moore has called the drought “our Hurricane Sandy.” In April, after Jerry Brown stood on a Sierra summit barren of snow and announced the state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictions, an official press release from the governor’s office asserted that for “more than two years, the state’s experts have been managing water resources to ensure that the state survives this drought and is better prepared for the next one.”

But according to critics, the opposite is true. One of the main reasons that California’s reservoirs have plummeted to nearly cataclysmic lows, they say, is that federal and state water managers sent enormous quantities of water in recent years to senior water rights holders, especially water districts that supply agribusinesses in the dry San Joaquin Valley. ”

Much the way Congress and federal regulators gave Wall Street a huge legal pass and billions in bailout money for crashing the US and global economies last decade, so does the State Water Resources Control Board coddle state and federal water projects and their thirsty contractors for managing their water supplies to the point that the systems on which they depend are themselves circling the drain,” said Tim Stroshane, a water policy analyst for the conservation advocacy group Restore the Delta.

Read more at: A Solution for California’s Water Woes | East Bay Express

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

Troubled Delta system Is California’s water battleground

Erica Goode, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Fighting over water is a tradition in California, but nowhere are the lines of dispute more sharply drawn than here in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a 720,000-acre network of islands and canals that is the hub of the state’s water system.

Giant pumps pull in water flowing to the delta from the mountainous north of the state, where the majority of precipitation falls, and send it to farms, towns and cities in the Central Valley and Southern California, where the demand for water is greatest.

For decades, the shortcomings of this water transportation system, among the most ambitious and complex ever constructed, have been a source of conflict and complaint.

But in the fourth year of a profound drought, the delta has become a central battle zone, pitting north against south, farmers against environmental groups, farmers against one another and many local residents against California’s governor, Jerry Brown, whose plan to fix the delta’s problems upsets them almost as much as the drought itself.

“In major battles, crossroads are always fought over,” said Steve Mello, who farms in the north delta. “And this is the crossroads for most of the water in the north state that they are seeking to export south.”

Water pumped from the delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast, accounts for only about 15 percent of the total water from aboveground sources that is used in California.

But the delta pumps help feed more than three million acres of farmland, much of it in the San Joaquin Valley, the agricultural heartland of the state. The estuary’s water is also home to hundreds of wildlife species, including fish — like the winter-run Chinook salmon and the delta smelt — that are listed as endangered and federally protected.

Casualties in this tug of war are counted in fallowed fields and the loss of species. And as the drought has intensified, so has debate over how the delta’s limited supply of water should be apportioned. Farmers in the Central Valley call it a “man-made drought,” complaining that water needed for crops is going to fish instead. This month, an environmental group filed suit against the state and federal governments, claiming that endangered species were being sacrificed to agricultural interests.

Read more at: Troubled Delta System Is California’s Water Battleground – The New York Times

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living, Water, Wildlife

Op-Ed: It’s time to protect the Delta

Jon Rosenfield & Gary Bobker, THE SACRAMENTO BEE

California is at high risk of permanently losing key species and habitats in the West Coast’s largest estuary, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Bay.

Some describe these grave outcomes as “ecosystem collapse,” others prefer the less descriptive term “ecosystem change.” Whatever words we choose, the decline of the Bay-Delta is part of the global loss of biological diversity described in Elizabeth Kolbert’s Pulitzer Prize winning book “The Sixth Extinction” – a tragedy that’s happening not just in coral reefs and rainforests but right in our backyard.

Focusing on semantics rather than biology threatens to overshadow important points:

▪  Several species native to the Delta could soon disappear;

▪  These and other permanent and negative outcomes are directly related to human activities – in particular, the diversion of more than 50 percent of the estuary’s inflow; and

▪  We can still protect this ecosystem and the values it provides to us, if we act decisively.

Six of the estuary’s unique populations of fish are listed as endangered and others are declining rapidly. In 2014, endangered winter-run and commercially valuable fall-run Chinook salmon were devastated by failure to provide cold water required by eggs incubating below Central Valley dams and the minimum freshwater flows that young salmon need as they migrate to the ocean. Cuts to freshwater flows also devastated species such as Delta smelt, longfin smelt and starry flounder that are at or near record low population levels. Yet the same failures to enforce minimum flow and temperature protections are being repeated this year, pushing native species ever closer to extinction.

When species that were once the estuary’s most abundant are on the verge of disappearing, everything that depends on them suffers, too – from commercial fishing communities along the California and Oregon coasts; to the tourism, recreation and seafood businesses of Northern California; to Orca whales in the Gulf of the Farallones.

“Ecosystem collapse” refers to a sudden loss of key ecological functions, processes, species or habitats. Those who apply that term to the Delta are simply using shorthand to describe consequences we should avoid. Quibbling over word choice risks shifting attention away from the frightening reality on the ground.

For example, an alternative description like “ecosystem change” is misleading. Characterizing extinctions and other major, potentially permanent, negative transformations as merely “change” is like an EMT describing the victim of a hit-and-run by saying “this patient’s health is changing” – true, but not very informative.

Let’s move past the semantics and focus on achieving outcomes that reflect our values – the same values that have repeatedly led Americans to adopt laws to protect our clean water, clean air, endangered species, vibrant fisheries, wildlands and wild rivers for the benefit of future generations.

Continue reading

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living, Water, Wildlife

Op-Ed: Time to stop the tunnel vision

Kathryn Phillips, THE SACRAMENTO BEE

For many Californians, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is known only as a place mentioned in magazine ads about houseboat vacations.

That the Delta, where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers meet the San Francisco Bay, is only vaguely understood in the state’s main population centers makes it easier to confuse people about the Delta’s value to the whole state and about the greatest threats to its future.

Gov. Jerry Brown demonstrated that recently when he announced his administration’s latest plans for the Delta.

First, the governor scaled back to 30,000 acres – a drop of 70 percent – the amount of the ecologically declining Delta area that would be targeted for restoration. He said this cut would allow restoration to start now to stanch sharply dropping native fish populations in the largest estuary on the West Coast of North America. The smaller the restoration, the easier it would be to direct state money to get it done.

Then, almost in the same breath, Brown reiterated his plan to build two giant, 40-foot-diameter tunnels through the Delta region. What he didn’t mention was that his tunnels plan would likely wipe out many of the species he claimed to be helping.

The tunnels would suck water more directly from the Sacramento River north of the Delta to parts south of the Delta. This almost guarantees that regular freshwater flows essential to keep the Delta ecosystem healthy would not improve or would actually worsen.

The tunnels would also require years of super-heavy construction activity in habitat for about 750 species, including endangered fish, birds and other wildlife. Then, once construction was done, the water diversion and pumping regimen would likely lead to more disruption and endangerment of any wildlife species that survive the construction.

Additionally, the tunnels plan would stir up massive loads of mercury and other chemicals and silt, further degrading an already compromised water source for urban and rural areas.

The environmental and ecosystem impacts would be so enormous that in August, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told the state that the environmental impact report for the tunnels – called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which at that time included 100,000 acres of restoration – was riddled with gaps and contradictions.

Since then, the tunnels plan has appeared to be stalled. The Brown administration assured everyone that the problems with the environmental impact report could be easily fixed, and those fixes would be revealed in a new version soon.

Then this latest proposal surfaced. In essence, the administration decided it would be easier to do the Bay Delta Plan without most of the Conservation.

In making his announcement about this new approach, Brown told the gathered media that the reduction in restoration to accelerate efforts to save the fish was essential. “If anyone has a better alternative, certainly we’ll hear it.”

Here’s the better alternative: Restore the Delta and drop the tunnels proposal. Instead, turn more attention, and money, to the rest of the California Water Action Plan to make every region’s water system more resilient and self-reliant.

To understand that better alternative, the Brown administration and the concrete-loving Department of Water Resources need to face a few hard realities.

The tunnels will not create water. They will only move water, and they will be an incredibly expensive way to move water, both financially and environmentally. Honest cost estimates for the tunnels, with appropriate mitigation for damage, run from about $20 billion to $40 billion.

The Sierra snowpack is no longer a reliable source of water year-round. Climate change has changed what we can expect and anticipate for future water availability. If the tunnels were in operation today, they wouldn’t have much available water to move.Spending money on huge infrastructure projects to move water around is a waste. This is especially true when so many cheaper options for “creating” local water have gone unfunded or unenforced. This includes improving water efficiencies, water recycling and water conservation.

Finally, the current drought won’t be the last or even, possibly, the worst we see in California now that climate change is upon us.

The Delta is teetering between salvation and ecosystem collapse. If we respond to this latest drought by creating a smarter water system throughout California, and reducing our farm and drinking water dependence on the Delta, we have a chance of saving that ecosystem.We can’t do that, though, if the state’s governor and water engineers continue to have tunnel vision.

Kathryn Phillips is director of Sierra Club California, the advocacy arm of Sierra Club’s 13 chapters in California.

Source: Time to stop the tunnel vision | The Sacramento Bee

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water, Wildlife