California Cannot Wait for Water Quality Protections Any Longer

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.

April 5, 2016 Coalition Letter to EPA

April 5, 2016 Coalition Letter to SWRCB

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CSPA Says “NO” to Privatizing the Public Trust

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

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CSPA and Coalition Urges SWRCB to Address WaterFix’s Changing Project Description

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.”

Coalition Request for Dismissal, Unstable Project Description

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What Caused the Impending Extinction of Delta Smelt?

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[1] 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.

Tom Cannon Presentation – Contributing Cause of Smelt Decline: Water Exports

Figure 1. Fall Midwater Trawl Index for Delta smelt 1967-2013. (Source: CDFW.)

Figure 1. Fall Midwater Trawl Index for Delta smelt 1967-2013. (Source: CDFW.)

Figure 2. January salvage of adult Delta smelt at South Delta export pumps in 1981. Also shown is export rate (cfs) and Delta outflow (cfs). The maximum allowed export rate is 11,400 cfs. (Data Source: CDFW.)

Figure 2. January salvage of adult Delta smelt at South Delta export pumps in 1981. Also shown is export rate (cfs) and Delta outflow (cfs). The maximum allowed export rate is 11,400 cfs. (Data Source: CDFW.)

Figure 3. Spring salvage of juvenile Delta smelt at South Delta export pumps in 1981. Delta smelt juveniles begin reaching salvageable size (>20 mm) in early May. Also shown is export rate (cfs) and Delta outflow (cfs). The maximum allowed exportsrate is 11,400 cfs. (Data Source: CDFW)

Figure 3. Spring salvage of juvenile Delta smelt at South Delta export pumps in 1981. Delta smelt juveniles begin reaching salvageable size (>20 mm) in early May. Also shown is export rate (cfs) and Delta outflow (cfs). The maximum allowed exportsrate is 11,400 cfs. (Data Source: CDFW)

Figure 4. Winter-spring salvage of Delta smelt at south Delta export pumps in 2003. Delta smelt young begin reaching salvageable size (>20 mm) in early May. Also shown is export rate (acre-feet per day) by pumping plant. The maximum allowed export rate is 11,400 cfs (about 23,000 acre-feet per day). (Data Source: CDFW). Winter salvage is primarily adult smelt. Spring salvage is predominantly juvenile smelt (>20 mm). April entrainment of 5-15 mm larval smelt is not accounted for at salvage facilities, because they pass undetected through salvage screens.

Figure 4. Winter-spring salvage of Delta smelt at south Delta export pumps in 2003. Delta smelt young begin reaching salvageable size (>20 mm) in early May. Also shown is export rate (acre-feet per day) by pumping plant. The maximum allowed export rate is 11,400 cfs (about 23,000 acre-feet per day). (Data Source: CDFW). Winter salvage is primarily adult smelt. Spring salvage is predominantly juvenile smelt (>20 mm). April entrainment of 5-15 mm larval smelt is not accounted for at salvage facilities, because they pass undetected through salvage screens.

Figure 5. Index of adult Delta smelt spawner abundance from winter Kodiak Trawl Survey 2002-2016.

Figure 5. Index of adult Delta smelt spawner abundance from winter Kodiak Trawl Survey 2002-2016.

[1] 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%.

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CSPA Persists in Challenging the Broken Delta Tunnels Project

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.

Press Release: Delta Tunnels/WaterFix Broken and in Chaos

Coalition Request to Dismiss Petition

CCWD Agreement Summary

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CSPA Formally Protests Delta Tunnels to State Water Board

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.

CSPA et al. Protest

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CSPA et al. Assails Water Board’s Delta Tunnel Hearing Process

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.

Letter to State Water Board

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CSPA and Coalition Urges the SWRCB Implement Sustainable Flow Requirements

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.”

Unimpaired Flows Letter

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CSPA Comments to Army Corps on Pending Water Fix Permits

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.

CSPA, et al. Comments on Water Fix CWA Section 404, RHA Section 10

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CSPA’s Submits Comments at the Conclusion of the Water Fix’s RDEIR/SDEIS Public Comment Period

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.

CSPA, et al. Comments on Water Fix RDEIR/SDEIS

EWC Water Fix RDEIR/SDEIS Comments

Posted in Bay Delta Conservation Plan, California Delta, Denise Zitnik, Fisheries, Water Quality | 1 Comment

CSPA and Allies Defend Butte Creek Protections

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.

CSPA et al comments DeSabla Petition for Reconsideration

CSPA et al attachment: Comments on Hendricks fish ladder and screen

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Press Release: Governor Signs New Law to Protect Rivers and Fisheries from Gold Mining

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.

SB637 Press Release

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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.

DISB Comments RDEIR-SDEIS

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CSPA, Environmental Water Caucus Asks Bureau of Reclamation to Comport with Reality

On September 29, 2015, the Environmental Water Caucus, a coalition of groups including CSPA, submitted comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Coordinated Long-Term Operation of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project. The EWC finds the DEIS deficient because it ignores operations during the long term drought, the waving of environmental protections including D-1641 water quality standards, and the dramatic decline of Delta Smelt, winter-run Chinook salmon and other fish species.

The EWC concludes that to comply with NEPA, the Bureau of Reclamation must revise the DEIS to analyze a broader range of alternatives, using a credible methodology for assessing environmental impacts, including cumulative impacts.

EWC Comments on DEIS for CVP/SWP

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CSPA, Environmental Water Caucus Submit Comments on the California Water Fix

On October 6, 2015 the Environmental Water Caucus, a coalition of groups including CSPA, submitted comments on the BDCP Delta Water Tunnels project Recirculated Draft EIR/Supplemental Draft EIS (RDEIR/SDEIS). The letter draws from previously submitted comments, including a July 2014 CSPA letter, to explain how the proposed project violates the Clean Water Act.

Key points from the RDEIR/SDEIS Comment Letter:

  • The Delta Water Tunnels project will violate water quality standards for flow and other parameters, preventing necessary Clean Water Act Section 401 certification.
  • The project reduces Delta freshwater flow conditions in violation of CWA requirements to fully protect the most sensitive beneficial uses.
  • The project increases Delta contamination, resulting in violations of pollutant criteria.
  • Because the project cannot meet water quality standards, the Water Tunnels Project cannot obtain the required Clean Water Act 401 Certification it needs for a 404 permit to build the project.
  • There is no defensible anti-degradation analysis.
  • Modeling criteria used to simulate operation of the Tunnels prejudice potential new water quality objectives for the Bay-Delta Estuary now being developed by the State Water Resources Control Board.
  • The Proposed Project is not the Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative.

The Environmental Water Caucus asks that state and federal agencies comply with the Clean Water Act and work to implement increased flows through the Delta.

EWC Comment Letter RDIR/SDEIS

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Environmental Water Caucus Requests Longer Comment Period on California “Water Fix”

On 18 September 2015, the Environmental Water Caucus, a coalition that includes CSPA, requested a 60-day extension of the public comment period on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP)/California Water Fix Partially Recirculated Draft EIR/Supplemental Draft EIS (RDEIR/SDEIS) for the BDCP Draft EIR/EIS. The 60 days would allow more time for the 48,000 pages of material “to be read, understood, researched, and then commented upon.”  It would also allow more time for the lead agencies to provide additional analysis and documentation necessary for the understanding of the proposed project and action.

The letter from EWC to Secretary of the Interior, the Regional Director of the Bureau of Reclamation, the California Secretary of Resources, and the Director of the California Department of Water Resources cites to flaws identified in the California Delta Independent Science Board’s  comments on the documents, released on September 14th. The request submitted by EWC also requests release of Biological Assessments and Biological Opinions under the Endangered Species Act for both long-term impacts and construction impacts on threatened and endangered fish, wildlife and aquatic and plant species.

EWC Request for Extension of Time

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CSPA, Environmental Water Caucus ask Secretary of the Interior to Reject Delta Tunnels

On 16 September 2015 the Environmental Water Caucus, a coalition of groups including CSPA, submitted a letter to Sally Jewell , Secretary of the Interior, detailing the many problems of the proposed California Delta Water Tunnel Project and urging the Secretary to show bold leadership by rejecting the proposed Delta Tunnels.

Among the many problems mentioned, the proposed tunnels would have devastating impacts on the Delta ecosystem and inhibit the Department of the Interior’s ability to comply with the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act and to meet trust obligations to Native Americans. Numerous agencies, including the Fish and Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey, National Academy of Sciences, National Marine Fisheries Service, and US Environmental Protection Agency, have identified serious and potentially catastrophic issues with the proposed project.

Despite these problems, state and federal officials plan to have the Delta Water Tunnels project Record of Decision ready for the approval of the Secretory of the Interior by the end of 2015. In advance of the Secretary’s decision, the US Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources have already petitioned the State Water Board to modify their water rights to allow the Tunnels to proceed, and have requested permits from the Army Corps of Engineers to allow tunnel related construction.

Sally Jewell Letter – Reject Tunnels, Too Risky

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CSPA Files Amended Lawsuit Against State Water Board

On 16 September 2015, attorneys for CSPA, CWIN and AquAlliance filed an amended lawsuit against the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) seeking declaratory and injunctive relief invalidating the SWRCB’s pattern and practice policy of weakening water quality protection standards adopted pursuant to federal law and incorporated into water rights licenses and permits held by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and California Department of Water Resources in violation of the Clean Water Act and public trust doctrine.

Over the last two years, the SWRCB has weakened crucial flow and water quality requirements protecting pelagic and salmonid fisheries in the Bay-Delta and Sacramento River on numerous occasions. For example, in 2014, the SWRCB reduced regulatory Delta outflow by 43% and increased Delta exports by 18%. In 2015, the SWRCB reduced regulatory outflow by 78% in order to increase exports by 32%. These changes shifted more than one million acre-feet of water from fisheries protection to agricultural and urban use. As a result, Delta and longfin smelt and winter-run Chinook salmon populations have collapsed to their lowest levels and are on the verge of possible extinction.

The amended complaint asks the court to declare that the SWRCB has engaged in an illegal pattern and practice of weakening water quality standards in violation of the Clean Water Act and public trust doctrine and to preliminarily and permanently enjoin the SWRCB from their pattern and practice of weakening standards protecting the Bay-Delta and Sacramento River.

Amended Lawsuit

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We Need to Get Salmon Upstream of Central Valley Rim Dams

Since 2006, one of CSPA’s primary areas of effort has been to reintroduce salmon to historic habitat upstream of major Central Valley dams. Today, Central Valley salmon are confined to the valley floor: 5-10% of their historic habitat. In the face of climate change and inadequate flows due to political pressure, regulatory timidity, and frequent bad management, limiting salmon to the valley floor is a strategy for extinction, widespread extirpation, and/or reduction of salmon to a few boutique tourist attractions.

In a July 22 op-ed in the Sacramento Bee (http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/soapbox/article28349512.html#storylink=cpy), Yvon Chouinard and Matt Stoecker criticize the Yuba Salmon Partnership Initiative (YSPI), one of the reintroduction efforts of which CSPA has been part. The YSPI is working to create a program to trap and haul adult spring-run Chinook salmon from the lower Yuba River to the North Yuba River, and to capture juveniles moving down the North Yuba River and transport them downstream to where they can gain access to the ocean. Chouinard and Stoecker say that trap and haul is the “wrong way” to recover salmon in the Yuba River, and suggest that trap and haul should be off the table everywhere. Instead, they recommend removal of Englebright Dam.

Central Valley rim dams are here to stay

Dams on the Sacramento, the Feather, the American, the Mokelumne, the Tuolumne, and other major Central Valley rivers aren’t going away. They are all too tall to put fish ladders on. Right now, wild salmon are struggling and in some cases dying on the valley floor. They are competing with fish from hatcheries; but without those hatcheries, there wouldn’t be enough salmon in California to allow any salmon fishing at all. Fish that spawn in Central Valley rivers are affected by extensive hydraulic infrastructure and by dozens of management decisions affecting water operations in the Delta, in the major rivers, and even in the smaller rivers like Butte Creek, where the largest population of Central Valley spring-run salmon is kept going by weekly and sometimes daily oversight. The whole system is managed. What can and must change is how it is managed. It’s high time that part of the management include getting wild salmon back to historic, higher elevation, cold water habitat.

In the big picture, that means getting fish past about five Central Valley rim dams. While options need to be investigated in each case, the likelihood is that this will be accomplished using trap and haul. For CSPA, the question is not whether trap and haul is morally acceptable or achieves “real recovery,” but whether we can reintroduce salmon upstream of rim dams soon enough and well enough to help save the Central Valley’s wild salmon populations. What’s not morally acceptable is to live with the way things are now. Continue reading

Posted in Chris Shutes, Fisheries, Hydroelectric (FERC) | Comments Off on We Need to Get Salmon Upstream of Central Valley Rim Dams