GSSA On Gov. Newsom’s Water Diversion Plans: “Harsh Blow To Salmon Recovery Efforts”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom hasn’t endeared himself to conservationists/environmentalists and the fishing community in recent years, considering he’s been a proponent of the controversial Delta Tunnel plan as critics fear mismanaged water policies on top of drought effects will wipe out already precarious king salmon runs in the Sacramento River Delta and its tributaries.

This week, Newsom’s administration announced new legislation that would prevent much-needed water from flowing into the Delta. Newsom’s website’s statement described his plans:

While recent storms have helped replenish the state’s reservoirs and boosted snowpack, drought conditions continue to have significant impacts on communities with vulnerable water supplies, agriculture, and the environment. The latest science indicates that hotter and drier weather conditions could reduce California’s water supply by up to 10% by the year 2040.

The frequency of hydrologic extremes that is being experienced in California demonstrates the need to continually adapt to promote resiliency in a changing climate. To protect water supply and the environment given this new reality, and until it is clear what the remainder of the wet season will hold, the executive order includes provisions to protect water reserves, and replace and replenish the greater share of rain and snowfall that will be absorbed by thirstier soils, vegetation and the atmosphere.

The order helps expand the state’s capacity to capture storm runoff in wet years by facilitating groundwater recharge projects. It also continues conservation measures and allows the State Water Board to reevaluate requirements for reservoir releases and diversion limitations to maximize water supplies north and south of the Delta while protecting the environment. Additionally, the order directs state agencies to review and provide recommendations on the state’s drought response actions by the end of April, including the possibility of terminating specific emergency provisions that are no longer needed, once there is greater clarity about the hydrologic conditions this year.

From news site Cal Matters:

Environmental activists say Newsom’s order is another sign that California is shifting priorities in how it manages water supply for humans and ecosystems.

They said the order will likely harm Chinook salmon and Delta smelt. Large numbers of newborn Chinook salmon have perished in recent drought years — the result of low flows in the Sacramento River and its tributaries.

Doug Obegi, a water law attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, called Newsom’s order the latest action in “a breakdown of law and order in the Delta.” In every critically dry year since 2012, Obegi said, the state’s flow rules and water export restrictions have been waived.

“Now, it seems, we’re going to start waiving them in average years,” Obegi said, adding that it’s the first time that the state has waived Delta outflow standards in a year that isn’t designated critically dry.  “The executive order seems to signal the governor’s intention to put his thumbs on the scale in favor of extinction in the Delta.”

Here’s also a statement from Golden State Salmon Association, which questioned if Newsom’s drought-impacted decision is prudent after an extremely rainy winter:

Gavin Newsom Orders State Agencies to Weaken Salmon Protections

Claims drought emergency while reservoirs fill

San Francisco  —  In a harsh blow to salmon recovery efforts, Governor Gavin Newsom has bowed to the will of factory farm operators in the Central Valley and invited his water managers to waive state law aimed at protecting salmon and other species.  Newsom issued an executive order on February 13 authorizing the State Water Control Board to waive legally required freshwater flows through the Delta. Without this water, salmon survival will plummet. 

The executive order was immediately followed by a request from the state’s Dept. of Water Resources (DWR) for such a waiver.  DWR’s request admits that cutting Delta outflow will harm salmon saying it will harm, “… survival of juvenile Chinook salmon and steelhead migrating from the Sacramento River basin during February and March 2023 …”  DWR says their increased pumping will suck baby salmon off their natural migration path and into the interior Delta, a well-documented death zone for them. They admit that “lesser Delta inflow could affect North Delta hydrodynamics, including greater entry into the interior Delta…and reduced through-Delta survival”.  The reduced river flows “…would coincide with the highest relative abundance of adult winter-run Chinook salmon migrating through the Delta” and “likely overlap with some juvenile fall-run Chinook salmon rearing and migration through the Delta.” 

Among this year’s baby salmon likely to be lost are the nearly two million fry salmon recently released from the Coleman hatchery as part of experiment intended in part to restock the upper Sacramento Basin with salmon. New DNA tracking used in the experiment will likely be wasted. 

Newsom premised his salmon-killing actions on claims the state’s giant agricultural industry is suffering a drought emergency.  However, most of the state’s reservoirs are at or above where they’d normally be this time of year and a record snowpack in the Sierras will soon fill them further.      

“We’ve got 205 percent of the normal snowpack in the Sierras, most of which will flow into the state’s reservoirs, so why is Gavin Newsom telling his water managers to make things worse for every family in California that depends on salmon to make a living,” asked John McManus, president of the Golden State Salmon Association.  

The governor’s move comes in spite of only 61,200 fall run Chinook salmon returned to the Sacramento River last fall, far below the target of 180,000 fish.  Salmon numbers have dropped dramatically during Governor Newsom’s time in office because of water management actions clearly favoring a handful of wealthy factory farm operators at the expense of the tens of thousands of Californians who rely on salmon to make a living.  

“Newsom is using emergency authority to bypass the law,” said GSSA director attorney David Zeff.  “What emergency is he responding to?  He’s not responding to the disappearance of the salmon and salmon jobs.  We’ve asked repeatedly to share our concerns with the governor, but he has refused to meet with us.” 

Newsom’s actions send a clear signal to families and communities on the coast and inland that they alone have to absorb more economic pain.  

“The past several years have been horrible for California’s native salmon runs and this spring there was finally hope for better river flows to move baby salmon to the ocean,” said GSSA vice chair Mike Aughney. “Now Newsom is moving to cut the spring river flows needed to deliver these salmon which will kill many of them.”

“In addition to those wondering how they’ll pay the bills this year if salmon fishing is cut off, all Californians who care about responsible stewardship of our natural resources should let this governor hear loud and clear that he is not serving us,” said McManus of GSSA.

Newsom’s destructive water policies have also been challenged by tribal and social justice groups who filed a petition with the US EPA asking it to intervene because of the failures of the State Water Resources Control Board to protect the Bay-Delta ecosystem under Governor Newsom.  A US EPA representative recently told the state that the EPA is taking the petition seriously and suggested that newer regulations currently in development will need to include more water flowing naturally in rivers. 

While natural spawning salmon have steadily declined under Governor Newsom, massive almond orchards, one of the most water-intensive crops, have grown by 300,000 acres or 468 square miles.  Average residents have seen their water bills go up and some have lost access to water while the proliferation of new almond orchards remains out of control. 

About GSSA: The Golden State Salmon Association ( is a coalition of salmon advocates that includes commercial and recreational salmon fishermen and women, businesses, restaurants, 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. 

Currently, California’s salmon industry is valued at $1.4 billion in economic activity and 23,000 jobs annually in a normal season and about half that much in economic activity and jobs again in Oregon. Industry workers benefiting from Central Valley salmon stretch from Santa Barbara to northern Oregon. This includes commercial fishermen and women, recreational fishermen and women (fresh and salt water), fish processors, marinas, coastal communities, equipment manufacturers, the hotel and food industry, tribes, and others.