OFF THE HOOK: Delta pumping restrictions all about salmon
The Golden Gate Salmon Association, responding to a Brown administration announcement that water supplies from South Delta pumping facilities were cut significantly to protect Delta smelt, reminded the public and government officials that pumping restrictions are just as much about salmon as they are about Delta smelt.
"As salmon go, so goes the water, the health of the Delta and salmon jobs up and down the state," according to a statement from GGSA.
"While the immediate reason water diversions are reduced in the delta is due to delta smelt being killed at the diversion pumps, the juvenile salmon are also out migrating through the delta now and are being killed by the pumps," said GGSA president Victor Gonella.
"We need natural delta flows to get our juvenile salmon safely to sea right now, especially since we're suffering from low rainfall," said Gonella. "The federal government set up a careful system to balance the needs of our salmon and other wildlife against those who divert water from the Delta. This system is working and must be respected."
In recent years, agribusiness "Astroturf" groups and their political allies have falsely portrayed the battle to restore Central Valley salmon and the Delta as a conflict between "a minnow and farmers" and "fish versus jobs."
In fact, Delta advocates point out that the conflict over Delta water is one between family farmers, sustainable fishermen and Indian Tribes working to restore salmon and other fish species to their historic abundance and corporate agribusiness interests seeking to divert more water to drainage impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and to Southern California developers.
Currently, California's salmon industry is valued at $1.4 billion in economic activity annually and about half that much in economic activity and jobs again in Oregon, according to Gonella. The industry employs tens of thousands of people from Santa Barbara to northern Oregon.
"This is a huge economic bloc made up of commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen (fresh and salt water), fish processors, marinas, coastal communities, equipment manufacturers, the hotel and food industry, tribes, and the salmon fishing industry at large," said Gonella.
The GGSA is a coalition of salmon advocates including commercial and recreational salmon fisherman, businesses, restaurants, tribes, environmentalists, elected officials, families and communities that rely on salmon. Their mission is to "protect and restore California's largest salmon producing habitat comprised of the Central Valley river's that feed the Bay-Delta ecosystem and the communities that rely on salmon as a long-term, sustainable, commercial, recreational and cultural resource."
On Feb. 8, further water restrictions were ordered as "incidental take" of adult Delta smelt by the facilities approached the number allowed by law. Between Nov. 1, 2012 and Jan. 31, 2013, the pumping curtailment reduced deliveries from the State Water Project and Central Valley Project to water districts in the Central Valley, Southern California, and San Francisco Bay Area by approximately 700,000 acre-feet.
This is "enough to irrigate more than 200,000 acres of farmland or supply 1.4 million households for a year," according to Mark Cowin, Department of Water Resources Director.
Even with restricted pumping, the number of Delta smelt "salvaged" at the federal and state water project pumps reached 232 by Feb. 6
The Delta smelt, listed as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act, is an indicator species found only in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The health of the smelt population demonstrates the health of the Bay-Delta ecosystem — and protecting smelt is necessary to protecting Central Valley salmon, steelhead, Sacramento splittail, longfin smelt, striped bass, American shad, white sturgeon, green sturgeon and other fish species that use the estuary as a spawning ground, nursery, forage grounds and migratory corridor.
Cowin and Chuck Bonham, California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director, used the press conference about the pumping restrictions to promote the construction of twin peripheral tunnels to carry water beneath the Delta to the existing state and federal pumps in the south Delta. Cowin claimed the "flexibility" provided under the operation of the peripheral tunnels would have prevented these water cutbacks.
"This winter provides a case study in why we must find a better way to balance needs in the Delta," Cowin said. "The current plumbing configuration in the Delta serves neither people nor fish and wildlife well. Climate change will only increase the stress and conflict."
Restore the Delta criticized the latest episode in the Brown administration's campaign to construct the peripheral tunnels.
"Time and time again, the best available Delta science has shown that Delta smelt and other threatened fish species are on the brink of collapse due to too much water being taken out of the Delta," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of RTD. "In the face of the threatened extinction of fish species, the Brown Administration has presided over record-high water exports."