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The California Striped Bass Association has published an online petition asking the California Fish and Game Commission (DFG) not to pass proposed regulatory changes that would decimate striped bass and black bass populations. The regulations would allow anglers to keep more striped bass and black bass per day, and reduce the size limits for these species, under the guise of bolstering endangered salmon fisheries.
Fisheries Management should be based on science, and the science firmly shows that reduced flows and Delta exports are the real threat to salmon. CSPA addressed the persistent attempts by water and irrigation districts to blame Salmon decline on anything but water diversions in our recent blog Irrigation Districts Can’t See Past Killing Bass to Save Salmon. For a more in-depth crash course in the issues threatening Salmon and Bass we also recommend these posts from The California Fisheries Blog:
- Spring-Run Chinook Salmon – why they fail to recover
- FISHBIO Strikes Again – Predation Is the Problem, Not Water Diversions – Right or Wrong?
- Striped Bass Status
Before the 2012-2015 drought, Delta smelt had a recovery period in 2010 and 2011. Now, in 2016, there remains an opportunity for some form of recovery, albeit small. What is needed is exactly what the US Fish and Wildlife Service has been pleading for so far this spring to save Delta smelt: more Delta outflow.A careful look at the four figures below indicates that there remains a chance to recover smelt this summer. There is a concentration of Delta smelt near Sherman Island in the west Delta (figure 1). If these smelt can get to Suisun Bay in the coming weeks as they did in 2010 and 2011, where habitat is better and where they are away from the influence of the south Delta exports, then they have a chance.
To move the largest remaining concentration of this species in existence downstream, it will take outflows of about 10,000 cfs. Right now outflows are about 7500 cfs (see chart 1, below), the minimum required under present water quality standards. The fisheries agencies and the water projects need to find a way to make up the difference as soon as possible.
CSPA and allied groups California Water Impact Network and AquAlliance have filed an Objection to an April 19, 2016 Order that allows reductions of April-June flows in the lower San Joaquin River from the flows required in Water Rights Decision 1641.
In the Objection, Petition for Reconsideration, and Petition for Hearing, CSPA argues that the basis on which the Executive Director of the State Water Board ordered the flow reduction followed from inaccurate arguments by the Bureau of Reclamation and Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts. The Bureau and the Districts claimed, at a State Water Board workshop on April 5, that the Bureau of Reclamation did not have any water available to meet its flow requirements. More specifically, the Bureau and the Districts claimed in a presentation at the workshop that the Districts were entitled to the “first” water that enters New Melones Reservoir in any given year. In its Objection, CSPA argues that the Bureau can and must rely on water that is forecasted to enter New Melones Reservoir later this spring, since the Districts don’t need all the water immediately.
CSPA asks that the State Water Board order the D-1641 April 15-May 15 San Joaquin River pulse flows reinstated forthwith and also that the Board require the Bureau to meet other D-1641 flow requirements for the San Joaquin River.
CSPA and allies in the Foothills Water Network submitted 25 pages of comments today on the analysis Nevada Irrigation District (NID) must perform to inform decision making about a proposed new dam on the Bear River.
NID’s proposes to build a new 110,000 acre-foot reservoir with a 275 foot-tall dam on the Bear River. “Centennial Dam” would inundate six miles of the Bear River, flooding a popular campground, more than 25 homes and 120 parcels, and a river crossing that is critical to public safety.
In its letter to NID, the Network asks NID to describe how its $300 million project would actually operate to meet a long list of stated goals. Many of the goals appear contradictory, such as the one that proposes to benefit the Delta by diverting more water, and others that promise to both serve new development and provide drought protection. The Network suggests a range of alternative actions that NID must consider, such as repairing or modifying its aging facilities, improving canal efficiency, incentivizing water conservation on semi-rural estates, stopping leaks, and metering water.
On April 13, 2016, CSPA joined a coalition of environmental and fishing groups to send a letter to California assembly member Susan Eggman in support of Assembly Bill 1713. The bill would prohibit the construction of any infrastructure like the Delta Tunnels unless expressly authorized by an initiative approved by California voters. Assembly Bill 1713 would give power to the ratepayers, taxpayers, and the people who would be most impacted by the irreparable harm caused by the proposed Delta Tunnels.
AB1713 is in response to Governor Jerry Brown’s efforts to construct the mass tunnels, costing upwards of more than 60 billion ratepayer dollars with interest, without a vote by the people of California. The previous “Peripheral Canal” proposed by then Governor Pat Brown was defeated in 1982 by a vote of 63 to 37 percent of the electorate.
Many San Joaquin Valley irrigation districts can’t get past the refrain on the broken record that controlling striped bass and black bass will save salmon and steelhead. They’ll do anything to avoid releasing more water from reservoirs; in many cases, killing bass is held up as the miracle cure that will allow them to release even less.
In an April 9, 2016 article in the Modesto Bee, striped bass are cast as the prime villain, joining a chorus led by several members of Congress who represent the San Joaquin Valley. This is in part because striped bass have state and federal legal protections, and in part because photos of captured stripers disgorging baby salmon are particularly dramatic.
The article quotes Doug Demko, President of the Fishbio consulting firm, and unabashedly states that Mr. Demko’s firm “has worked with districts seeking a way around … increased flow demands.” The article attributes to Mr. Demko the assertion that [his] 2012 study showed a 96 percent loss of juvenile salmon in the Tuolumne River downstream of Waterford to predation.
Review of the study shows that the estimate of loss is based on the recovery of a grand total of 46 juvenile salmon (21 in March and 23 in May) from the stomachs of smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and striped bass. Most of the bass captured during the study had no salmon in them at all. At flows of 2100 cubic feet per second (cfs), the survival of juvenile salmon was almost three times higher that it was at flows of 400 cfs. In a poster describing the results of the study, Fishbio attributed to stripers a “potential” impact of only 14.7% of overall predation by bass in the Tuolumne. One should be careful about the “potential” however, because the poster also extrapolates the 46 juvenile salmon actually recovered to a “potential” predation impact of 42,000 in the river. There are so many assumptions, including the assumption that salmon’s migration rates in the river are constant: they are not.
CSPA and more than 150 other environmental, fishing, environmental justice and tribal organizations have submitted two letters regarding the supposed three-year update of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan. A letter to the State Water Resources Control Board urges the State Board to complete the update after years of delay. A second letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urges the EPA to step in and complete the Plan itself because the State Board hasn’t done the job. The Water Quality Control Plan deals with Delta inflow and outflow requirements in addition to water quality issues as such.
The letters’ signatory groups represent millions of Californians. These groups have united because the wait for scientifically justified, protective water standards has taken far too long.
The notion that the update will take place every three years has become a bad joke:
- 1995 was the last time the State Board substantively or comprehensively updated the current water quality standards for the Bay-Delta estuary.
- In 2009 the State Board initiated its current review of the standards.
- Today, after seven years, the State Board has yet to complete even an environmental document for amendments to the Plan. In the interim, instead of adopting new protections, the State Board relaxed standards during the drought. This completely devastated two year classes of multiple Chinook salmon runs, pushed two species of smelt to the brink of extinction, and caused significant harm to other fish and wildlife beneficial uses.
- Mid-2018 is the recently revised date the State Board says it will complete the Plan.
The current water quality standards are failing to protect fish and wildlife and must be updated. The letters ask the agencies to complete the Plan by the end of 2017.
Oral Comments of Chris Shutes, CSPA Water Rights Advocate, to the State Water Resources Control Board, April 5, 2016. Item 9: 2016 Operation of New Melones Reservoir on the Stanislaus River [based on notes as read; exact delivery was slightly different]
During the drought, Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts lived off Bureau’s [of Reclamation] storage in New Melones while flow at Vernalis was reduced to a trickle. In 2014, gross farm revenue in Stanislaus County reached a record $4.397 billion. We don’t know what it was in 2015. In 2016, OID and SSJID want the Bureau and the Board to cut Stanislaus River flow requirements by between 200,000 and 300,000 acre-feet so the districts can sell 65,000 acre-feet of water that the Bureau is storing, for just under $20 Million. The so-called “conserved” water becomes free insurance for these districts if 2017 is a dry year. The scheme is breathtaking.
The proposal before you turns the principle of the public trust on its head. The public trust protects the needs of the rivers as first priority; developmental uses are limited by the needs of the public trust. As the Light decision stated it, “[W]hen the public trust doctrine clashes with the rule of priority, the rule of priority must yield.”
That’s not how it’s working here. It’s a completely new paradigm. Now the rivers get the leftovers. Water to protect fish is dependent on its sale. Even VAMP [Vernalis Adaptive Management Program] reduced exports during the San Joaquin pulse, but now it’s fine if water designated for fish protection escorts fish directly to the Delta pumps. It’s okay because someone who wasn’t using the water anyway is making millions in the bargain. This subordination of the public trust to developmental uses raises at least four major policy issues. Your Notice says there are no policy issues raised by this proposal. That’s just not correct. Continue reading
On April 1, 2016, CSPA and a coalition of environmental groups submitted their second letter in two days to the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), urging the SWRCB to dismiss the upcoming California WaterFix hearings. The new letter comes after the Contra Costa Water District (CCWD) announced a settlement agreement with the Department of Water Resources (DWR).
As described in the March 30th blog, the CCWD settlement proposes new project facilities and accompanying impacts, including decreases to Delta inflow and changes to water quality, which are not included in the current project description. New project components have not been subject to environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act, nor have parties affected by the proposed changes had an option to protest. Additionally, any potential future settlements between DWR and other water districts will be subject to the same failings as the CCWD agreement.
The SWRCB should dismiss the change petition until such time as there is a stable, complete and fully evaluated. If the SWRCB continues to forward with the Delta Tunnels hearings, the coalition letter summarizes:
“To continue this process seems to us like attempting to audit a bank while a robbery is under way. It cannot possibly result in an accurate accounting, to say the least, let alone protect the due process rights of those for whom the project results in redirected impacts.”
CSPA’s fisheries biologist Tom Cannon gave a presentation entitled “Contributing Cause of Smelt Decline: Water Exports” at a symposium on March 29, 2016 at UC Davis. The theme of the conference, sponsored by the Delta Stewardship Council, was: “Delta and Longfin Smelt: Is Extinction Inevitable?”
In his presentation, Tom put forth the hypothesis that the cause of the probable extinction of Delta smelt was the commencement of operation of the State Water Project’s Banks Pumping Plant in the mid-1970s. When Banks came on line, South Delta exports tripled, going from 2 million acre-feet to 6 million acre-feet per year. Tom’s hypothesis is that the mechanism of likely extinction was entrainment of Delta Smelt into the inflow to State and Federal South Delta pumping plants: exports.
The presentation’s first slide shows the familiar long-term Fall Midwater Trawl Index (Figure 1). Tom emphasized the sharp drop in the Index in 1981 (red circle in Figure 1), the first dry year of operations under the 1978 Delta Plan (water quality standards limiting operations of the Delta pumping plants). He noted that the decline likely started in the mid-1970s, but was most severe in 1981. There were recovery periods in the non-drought years of the 1990’s and 2010-2011. However, in 2001-2005, smelt and other Delta species crashed, a period now known as the “Pelagic Organism Decline,” or POD. Following a mild recovery in the wet year 2011, Delta smelt collapsed to record low indices in 2014 and 2015 (indices of 9 and 7, respectively, not shown in Figure 1).
Other slides depict (1) the huge losses of adult smelt as indexed by January salvage numbers in 1981 (Figure 2), and (2) the salvage counts of juvenile Delta smelt in spring 1981 (Figure 3). The total salvage for January 1981 alone was over 10,000 adult Delta smelt, which compares to a total of 56 in January 2015 and 12 in January 2016. The total juvenile Delta smelt salvage in spring 1981 exceeded 100,000; in 2015, it was 4.
An example of salvage during the 2001-2005 POD is winter-spring salvage in 2003 (Figure 4). Tom attributes the POD decline to the tens of thousands of Delta smelt lost to entrainment in winter and spring, including a likely large number of non-detected larvae under conditions of maximum exports.
According to Tom, export entrainment is the primary causal factor for the death spiral of Delta smelt, not low outflow. There were relatively high or improved smelt abundance indices in 1972, 1990, and 1991 (see Figure 1), which were all years with low outflows but also low exports. This is not to say, however, that low outflows are not also factors that contribute to high entrainment (Figures 2 and 3).
Tom concludes that Delta smelt are virtually extinct because their adult spawning numbers are insufficient to provide recovery even under 2016’s good (wet) conditions. Adult numbers are simply too low to produce sufficient offspring (Figure 5). The proof will come this spring, summer, and fall when indices of Delta smelt juveniles will likely remain critically low and not reach 2010 or 2011 levels, the last years when habitat conditions were favorable.
 Salvage collections are notoriously inefficient on small fish entrained into the pumping plants. Predation loss before entering the salvage facilities has been estimated to be higher than 90%.
Following a petition by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and US Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) requesting to further delay the “Change in Point of Diversion” hearings, CSPA and a broad collation of environmental and water agency groups has filed a counter petition requesting the State Water Resources Control Board dismiss the petition as incomplete.
On March 28th Bill Jennings detailed the source of the delay in the coalition’s press release:
“California WaterFix cannot be fixed, the idea that you can divert millions of acre feet of water under an estuary that is already suffering from lack of flow without grievously harming existing water users, communities and already degraded fisheries and water quality is fundamentally absurd.”
As the evening of March 29th, the State Board has already suspended all WaterFix deadlines pending assurances from DWR and USBR that they will be prepared to proceed without further delay in sixty days. The Board also stated that it intends to address the hearing schedule and numerous requests from the various parties in the near future. This includes the request by San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority that the hearing officers recuse themselves because they suggested that interim water quality standards for WaterFix might include higher Delta flows.
A new wrinkle materialized on March 29th when Contra Costa Water District (CCWD) dismissed its protest of WaterFix, saying that it had reached agreement with DWR. The agreement requires DWR to fully indemnify the District from WaterFix impacts and to provide CCWD with water delivered directly from the Sacramento River north of the Delta. This modification of WaterFix would decrease Delta inflow, has not received environmental review and renders the existing project description and environmental assessments, including fishery and water quality impacts, seriously inadequate. It would also require a change-in-the-point-of-diversion proceeding for CCWD.
Repeated delays do not change the fact that the WaterFix imposes significant harm to protected fish and wildlife – and thus cannot be permitted. This delay is not the first, and likely not the last, encountered in the long Delta Tunnels process.
On 5 January 2016, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) filed a formal protest of the WaterFix Project petition to change the point of diversion for the State Water Project (SWP) and Central Valley Project (CVP) WaterFix Project that was submitted to the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). The California Water Impact Network (CWIN) and AquAlliance joined CSPA in the protest.
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) petitioned the SWRCB to modify their SWP/CVP water rights to add Sacramento River points of diversion to facilitate the export of millions of acre-feet of water through proposed twin 30-mile long, 40-foot diameter tunnels under the Delta for delivery to southern California.
The Delta ecosystem has collapsed because the excessive diversion of water has already deprived the estuary of more than half of its historic inflow and its hydrograph (timing of flow) has been turned on its head. Consequently, the Delta’s water quality is highly degraded and its pelagic and anadromous fisheries are on the precipice of extinction. The WaterFix Project will eliminate all hope of restoring the estuary and its fisheries.
CSPA protested that the WaterFix project would increase the concentration of numerous pollutants, push fisheries into extinction, harm existing users of water, violate the public trust and numerous state and federal statutes and should not be considered by the SWRCB at the present time because of vast procedural irregularities. The identified procedural irregularities include the fact that the SWRCB: has not updated the Water Quality Control Plan for the Delta in twenty years, despite state and federal requirements to do so every three years; failed to conduct licensing hearings for existing CVP and SWP water rights and there is no final environmental review document for the WaterFix Project.
The evidentiary hearing on the matter will begin in April and is expected to take many months. CSPA will provide extensive legal and scientific testimony under oath, cross-examine project proponent witnesses and submit rebuttal evidence and closing arguments. CSPA, CWIN and AquAlliance have already made clear that, if necessary, we are prepared to litigate to save the Delta and its fisheries.
On 24 November 2015, CSPA joined Friends of the River, Restore the Delta and the Environmental Water Caucus in sending a letter to the State Water Resources Control Board regarding the hearing process with respect to the petition by the Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to change the point of diversion in the Delta for their water rights. The change in the point of diversion is a crucial requirement for the California WaterFix water tunnels project.
The letter told the Water Board that it must produce its own environmental document because the WaterFix environmental document is irreparably and fundamentally inadequate and fails to address numerous issues related to a change in the point of diversion. The letter also pointed out that the Board should establish revised and legally protective water quality standards before it schedules hearings on the WaterFix project. It urged the State Water Board to postpone the hearing until an adequate environmental document could be prepared and/or recommended that the Board prepare its own environmental document for the proposed new diversion point. Protests on the petition are due on the fifth of January and lengthy evidentiary hearings are scheduled to begin in April 2015.
On October 26, 2015 CSPA, as part of a broad coalition of 87 environmental, fishing, and tribal organizations, submitted a letter to the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) supporting the use of a percentage of unimpaired flow as the basis for winter and spring flow requirements into and through the Delta.
The “percent-of-unimpaired” approach was proposed by the State Water Resources Control Board in its 2010 Delta Flow Criteria Report, following a year-long proceeding and based on consensus by a wide variety of experts. Ever since, water user interests have attacked the approach because it will require that some of the water historically diverted for water supply be maintained as instream flow in order to restore to the Bay-Delta ecosystem.
The percent-of-unimpaired approach is the cornerstone of the State Board’s ongoing update of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan. The letter asks the State Board to reject a change in methodology, and concludes: “We ask the SWRCB to reject the efforts of the water contractors to delay and sabotage the present Water Quality Control Plan process and to move expeditiously in implementing Delta flow requirements needed to protect our waterways and fish.”
On November 8, 2015 CSPA, CWIN, and AquAlliance submitted comments to the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 404 and River and Harbors Act (RHA) Section 10 permits recently requested for the California Water Fix by the US Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources. If issued, the permits would allow the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States for the construction of the Delta Tunnels.
Before issuing the permits, the Army Corps must evaluate the environmental documents for the California Water Fix to determine if those documents are sufficient under the National Environmental Policy Act for the Corps to use them in issuing the permits. CSPA argues that the California Water Fix’s Recirculated Draft EIR (RDEIR)/Supplemental Draft EIS (SDEIS) are not sufficient for this purpose, and summarizes the many flaws in that document. These flaws led the US Environmental Protection Agency to rate the SDEIS as inadequate. CSPA urges the Corps to not use the Water Fix’s RDEIR/SDEIS as the basis for issuing CWA Section 404 and RHA Section 10 permits, and requests that the Corps develop its own EIS.
On October 30, 2015 the public comment period for the Recirculated Draft EIR/Supplemental Draft EIS for Bay Delta Conservation Plan/California WaterFix (RDEIR/SDEIS) ended. CSPA submitted comments with CWIN and AquAlliance, and in a separate effort worked closely with the Environmental Water Caucus in developing the coalition’s comments.
CSPA’s comments focus in on persistent flaws within the Water Fix environmental documents, including:
- The failure to develop and consider a range of reasonable alternatives, most notably alternatives that would increase Delta outflow and reduce Delta exports
- Absence of requirements for state-of-the-art fish screens on South Delta export pumps that will continue to operate even if the tunnels are built
- The failure to adequately disclose and analyze the impacts to water quality and contaminant control that would result from diverting large amounts of water in the North Delta
- Myriad legal shortcomings in violation of NEPA and CEQA, including an inadequate description of the baseline condition of ecosystem collapse and the deferral of mitigation to an unspecified future
- Incoherent and obtuse presentation, and organization that makes reasoned decision making impossible
You can trace CSPA’s long term commitment to stop the tunnels on the No Bay Delta Conservation Plan Campaign.
Virtually everyone agrees that PG&E’s DeSabla – Centerville Hydroelectric Project on Butte Creek and the West Branch Feather River provides important benefits to salmon. Fortunately, the ten-year-long relicensing of this project is close to completion.
In the most recent process milestone, the State Water Board issued the Water Quality Certification for the relicensing in April. Staff from the State Water Board used the Certification to require suitable water temperatures for spring-run Chinook salmon holding in Butte Creek during the summer. Combined with the run down condition of the low-power Centerville Powerhouse and the expense of rebuilding it, the Certification helped PG&E to decide to decommission Centerville Powerhouse and the Lower Centerville Canal. Decommissioning will take place through a license amendment once the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issues a new project license.
Less fortunately, in spite of an outcome largely agreed to by everyone, PG&E challenged many aspects of the Certification in a May 11, 2015 “Petition for Reconsideration.” Though less than a week later PG&E was complaining to a committee of Congress of delays in relicensing this specific project, PG&E’s Petition challenged the legal basis for the State to reserve its authority in a Water Quality Certification. Reserving authority is a common sense provision that would allow a change in the Certification if conditions like climate change alter the impacts of the project. PG&E’s broad legal challenge means that important improvements, like a device to reduce the heating of water in a project reservoir, could be delayed even further.
On November 9, CSPA, Friends of Butte Creek, American Whitewater, and Friends of the River commented on PG&E’s Petition for Reconsideration, largely in opposition. We urge the Board to issue an order forthwith adopting a few of PG&E’s requests while denying most of them and retaining the bulk of the Certification.
On October 9, 2015, CSPA and a broad coalition of environmental, fishing, and tribal groups secured a victory for fisheries in the long fight against suction dredging with the signing of Senate Bill 637. The new law requires that all small scale miners using motorized suction pumps obtain a Clean Water Act Permit from the State Water Resources Control Board before mining in California waterways.
A moratorium on the environmentally destructive practice has been in effect since 2009, but recent court decisions have cast uncertainty on the moratorium and prompted clarification from the legislature. Senate Bill 637 provides clear authority to the State Water Resources Control Board to permit or deny small scale suction dredge mining in order to maintain water quality standards.
Delta Independent Science Board Finds Current Draft of “Water Fix” Environmental Documents Incomplete and Vague
On September 30, 2015 the Delta Independent Science Board released its review of the BDCP/ Water Fix’s partially Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report and Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Overall, the Delta Independent Science Board found the document unsatisfactory for use in evaluating the proposed Delta Tunnels and associated actions:
“We do not attempt to determine whether this report fulfills the letter of the law. But we find the Current Draft sufficiently incomplete and opaque to deter its evaluation and use by decision-makers, resource managers, scientists, and the broader public.”
The opinions from Delta Independent Science Board, comprised of prominent scientists, are expected to carry considerable weight in the NEPA and CEQA processes.