GSSA: Water Diverson Plan Could Threaten Central Valley Salmon (UPDATE)

The following press release is courtesy of the Golden State Salmon Association:

SAN FRANCISCO — The Trump administration, under former Westlands Water District lobbyist and now Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, released a doctored set of rules allowing much greater water diversions to its supporters in the dry western San Joaquin Valley.  The new rules ensure great damage to California’s environment, especially to the state’s native salmon runs and the family jobs tied to them.  The new rules could go into effect late this winter or early spring of 2020 and are sure to make worse pollution and ecosystem health problems in SF Bay and the Delta.

The Trump administration’s new rules conclude that operation of the massive system of dams, canals, and pumps that capture water from northern California salmon rivers and channel and divert it to the western San Joaquin pose no jeopardy to endangered and threatened wildlife, including salmon.  This directly contradicts a previous jeopardy finding made by the National Marine Fisheries Service in July.  The scientists who wrote that July document were reassigned and prevented from working on the documents released today.  No one disputes the new rules are the Trump administration’s attempt to make good on a promise to growers in the San Joaquin Valley to maximize water diversions to them, no matter the environmental and economic consequences to others.

“This decision weakens all of the existing federal rules to protect Bay-Delta salmon runs.  We’ve seen this movie before. In 2004 federal salmon biologists found that operating this massive water diversion project jeopardized various native species, including the salmon our jobs and communities depend on, that are supposed to be protected,” said John McManus, president of the Golden State Salmon Association. “The Bush Cheney administration stepped in and overruled and reversed those findings which led to catastrophic water diversions that killed untold millions of salmon and shut down our industry entirely in 2008 and 2009.  It looks like this administration is trying to shut us down again – permanently.”

The increased water diversions mean much less water will flow through the Delta to SF Bay in the future.  This will occur even though the State Water Resources Control Board has found there’s already insufficient Delta outflow to protect salmon, other wildlife, and the Bay.   A lack of water due to over-diversion of Central Valley rivers also regularly causes outbreaks of toxic blue green algae in stagnant, polluted, Delta waters.

The new weaker rules also take a hands off approach to the question of enforcement, leaving it up to Bureau of Reclamation and state Dept. of Water Resources to police themselves and decide when or if water diversions should be scaled back to avoid additional extinctions. Gone is the oversight and enforcement functions the US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service formerly had, replaced by an honor system that places control in the hands of agencies that have not earned trust.

Gone too are protections that required the Bureau of Reclamation to leave a sensible volume of water in Lake Shasta at the end of the year to ensure adequate cold water for salmon and water supplies in case of future droughts.

So far, Governor Newsom hasn’t said what, if anything, he’ll do to protect the state’s salmon, other wildlife, and salmon fishing jobs from this decision to slash federal protections.  Nor has he said a word about the looming damage to the coastal and inland communities, families, and economies that depend on salmon.  Newsom recently vetoed Senate Bill 1, which would have given him strong tools to deal with this development and retain existing protections for fish and wildlife.

“Fishing and conservation advocates across the state are watching closely to see if Governor Newsom stands up for California in the face of yet another Trump administration assault on our environment and on salmon fishing jobs,” said GSSA’s McManus.

The Golden State Salmon Association (www.goldenstatesalmon.org) is a coalition of salmon advocates that includes commercial and recreational salmon fisherman, businesses, restaurants and chefs, a native tribe, environmentalists, elected officials, families and communities that rely on salmon. GSSA’s mission is to restore California salmon for their economic, recreational, commercial, environmental, cultural and health values.

UPDATE

Here’s more reaction:

“The servile Interior Department has hijacked and subverted the scientific process,” said Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “Fishing jobs are being sacrificed to benefit the corporate agriculture lobby, pure and simple. If the Newsom Administration fails to fight this flawed water plan, the next drought may very well wipe California salmon off the map.”

Here’s a little bit more from the New York Times piece that was published today:

In a prepared statement, the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service wrote that the new findings followed “robust scientific review” and that the changes “will not jeopardize threatened or endangered species or adversely modify their critical habitat.”

“The new operations plan that has emerged includes more nimble and responsive water project operations that both protect endangered fish and allow the flexibility to quickly adapt to changing conditions — like the variable weather in California — to ensure effective and efficient water supply management,” the statement said.

Paul Souza, a deputy assistant director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said on a telephone call with reporters that the Interior secretary’s prior lobbying work did not influence the new decision. “There is absolutely no connection,” he said. “We are career professionals. We have led this effort with our teams over the past year, and this is career professional documentation.”

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