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CSPA Protests Water Right Petition for Proposed Delta Tunnel

CSPA, AquAlliance, and the San Joaquin Audubon Society filed a protest on May 13, 2024 opposing the Department of Water Resources’ (DWR’s) petition to change its water rights.  The change in water rights would allow DWR to construct and operate a proposed tunnel under the eastern side of the Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta estuary.

If constructed and operated, the tunnel would divert and move massive amounts of Sacramento River water to the San Joaquin Valley and southern California each year.

The tunnel would harm fish, birds, and land animals.  It would worsen water quality in the Delta and San Francisco Bay.

DWR proposes to keep the existing weak standards that have failed to protect fisheries and water quality.  In addition, DWR proposes to establish new weak standards specifically to govern the tunnel’s operation.  DWR also plans to put more power in the hands of the people who have devastated the Delta ecosystem, and to allow them to weaken standards even further in the future.

The protest states: “The exorbitant costs of the Delta tunnel make the program feasible only if it funded by taxpayer money, thus making the public finance the further degradation of public trust resources …”

The protest concludes, in part:

“Compatibility of Delta export operations with protection of the Bay-Delta ecosystem … is ultimately dependent on reduction of the annual volume of Delta exports. … Development of alternative means to achieve water supply reliability begins with reduction of the existing unreasonable and unsustainable uses of water in the southern two thirds of California.  … The State Water Board should deny the Petition.”

State Water Board hearings on the proposed Delta tunnel will likely begin in early 2025.  The hearings are likely to last at least a year.

Posted in Chris Shutes, No Tunnels Campaign | Comments Off on CSPA Protests Water Right Petition for Proposed Delta Tunnel

California Public Utilities Commission Denies PG&E Application for Transfer of Assets: A Big Win for CSPA and California Hydropower Reform Coalition

On May 9, 2024, the California Public Utilities Commission (Commission) denied an application for transfer of assets filed by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and its subsidiary, Pacific Generation.

This decision is a win for the California Hydropower Reform Coalition (CHRC), of which California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) is an active member. CHRC challenged PG&E’s application throughout regulatory hearings conducted by the Commission, on the grounds that the transfer of assets was not in the public interest.

In its decision, the Commission agreed, stating that PG&E was required to “demonstrate, among other things, that their requests are adequately justified, reasonable, and in the public interest.” The Commission found that PG&E’s proposed transaction failed to meet “even the minimal public interest standard.”


On September 28, 2022, PG&E filed an application to transfer all of PG&E’s non-nuclear generation assets to a newly formed subsidiary, Pacific Generation.

Among the assets PG&E proposed to transfer were all of its hydropower projects. These included projects that PG&E has proposed to fully or partly decommission: the DeSabla-Centerville Hydroelectric Project located on Butte Creek and the West Branch of the Feather River, the Battle Creek Hydroelectric Project on Battle Creek, and the Potter Valley Hydroelectric Project on the Eel River and East Branch of the Russian River. PG&E applied to transfer the hydroelectric facilities as well as the land associated with those facilities to Pacific Generation.

The assets PG&E applied to transfer are worth approximately $3.5 billion. PG&E intended to transfer these assets to Pacific Generation without receiving any cash payment for those assets. Further, PG&E proposed to provide all the personnel to operate and maintain the facilities it wanted to transfer.

Section 854(a) of the Public Utilities Code requires any transaction related to public utilities to be approved by the Commission. The transaction must meet a range of requirements for the Commission to approve the transaction including the stipulation that the transaction must be in the public interest.

Why CSPA and CHRC Challenged PG&E’s Application

In testimony delivered to the Commission on June 16, 2023, CSPA’s Chris Shutes stated that PG&E has a “corporate practice of deferral and delay” when it comes to maintaining its hydroelectric facilities. In addition to safety concerns, this practice has led to PG&E’s failure to fulfill its obligations to keep waterways and fish below its hydroelectric facilities in good condition.

In 2006, CSPA became involved in Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC) relicensing procedures for the DeSabla-Centerville Project in an effort to secure better conditions for spring-run Chinook salmon in Butte Creek. PG&E stalled the relicensing process and the DeSabla-Centerville Project remains without a renewed license today.

In the early 1980s PG&E began investigating how to make the 125-year-old Centerville Powerhouse more reliable and efficient. The Centerville Powerhouse has now been completely offline since 2011, and PG&E has determined it to be irreparable.

The assets that PG&E applied to transfer are operated for a range of beneficial uses including water supply, environmental mitigation, recreation, and flood control. CHRC stated that PG&E showed no evidence that Pacific Generation had the financial capacity to repair and maintain the facilities. Further, PG&E did not address how the new arrangement would impact its own ability to maintain the reliability and safety of the hydroelectric projects involved.

The Commission’s Decision

PG&E applied to transfer these assets to Pacific Generation to use them to raise money without subjecting investors to liability for PG&E’s overall operations. This would shield investors from fires caused by PG&E’s transmission lines. However, a result of transfer would also be that PG&E would avoid liability and responsibility for the transferred assets. Thus, if a dam failed at one of the hydropower projects, the subsidiary would become the legally responsible entity.

In its decision, the Commission stated that if the application was successful, Pacific Generation would own $3.5 billion worth of public utility assets despite having only one employee. Pacific Generation would be legally accountable and responsible for the operation and safety of the assets, yet the assets would be operated solely by employees of PG&E.

The Commission also found that the transfer could increase costs for ratepayers and further reduce the safety of the affected projects.

PG&E stated that its application to transfer assets was not adverse to the public interest and as such it did not have to prove that the transfer would be of benefit to consumers. The Commission disagreed and stated in its decision that the “proposed transaction is novel and unprecedented” and as such a “heightened standard of review should apply.” PG&E’s application did not survive the Commission’s scrutiny.


CSPA has worked for many decades to hold PG&E and other hydroelectric project operators accountable both for public safety and for the danger their projects pose to fisheries and riparian habitats. The Commission’s decision is a welcome outcome for CSPA and its colleagues in the CHRC, who represent a wide range of interests that are impacted by hydroelectric facilities.

The steering committee of the California Hydropower Reform Coalition (CHRC) includes California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, American Rivers, American Whitewater, California Outdoors, California Trout, Inc., Foothill Conservancy, Friends of the River, South Yuba River Citizens League, and Trout Unlimited. Julie Gantenbein of Water Power Law Group represented CHRC in this matter.

Posted in Alerts & Advisories, Hydroelectric (FERC), Press Release | Comments Off on California Public Utilities Commission Denies PG&E Application for Transfer of Assets: A Big Win for CSPA and California Hydropower Reform Coalition

California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and Sierra Club Tahoe Area Group Announce Lake Tahoe Lawsuit Victory


The Sierra Club Tahoe Area Group and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) are thrilled to announce victory in their lawsuit against herbicide discharges into the Tahoe Keys lagoons connected to Lake Tahoe. In January 2022, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a permit allowing the first ever discharge of herbicides into Lake Tahoe’s waters.

The Sierra Club and CSPA filed suit in El Dorado County Superior Court in June 2022 asking the Court to rule against the dangerous precedent set by the Board’s permit. The judge agreed with the Sierra Club and CSPA and vacated the permit to use herbicides in the Tahoe Keys. Jason Flanders and Kenya Rothstein of the Aqua Terra Aeris Law Group represented the Sierra Club and CSPA in this matter.

From the beginning of the Control Methods Test project and throughout the project’s environmental analysis and final permit processes, the Sierra Club Tahoe Area Group and CSPA commented that allowing the discharge of herbicides before non-chemical methods were fully analyzed and demonstrated not to work would violate the Board’s own regulations in their Basin Plan.

This court ruling released April 25, 2024 confirms that the Lahontan Board “abused its discretion in granting the exemption,” and ordered the Board to “vacate and set aside its approval of the project and any and all approvals” during project implementation. The Court also ordered the Board to withdraw its certification of the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which the Court found deficient for not analyzing the reasonable possibility of repeated future applications of herbicides.

The Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association originally asked for multiple years of herbicide applications and is already beginning discussions about future herbicide applications. This ruling sends an important message to the Board and the Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association regarding future applications for herbicide treatments. Non-chemical methods must be tested very thoroughly and proven ineffective before any herbicide treatments can be approved.

“We are very pleased with the Court’s ruling requiring the Board to follow its own rules,” said Tobi Tyler, volunteer with the Sierra Club’s Tahoe Area Group. “The Board violated the public trust and circumvented Basin Plan regulations that were diligently established after a great deal of public input and scrutiny.”

“Lake Tahoe is a national treasure, and I hope to help preserve it for my children to recreate in and appreciate. Using dangerous chemicals in this beautiful lake would have put it at risk, so I count this as a huge victory for our region,” said Olivia Tanager, Director of the Sierra Club’s Toiyabe Chapter.

CSPA’s Executive Director Chris Shutes said, ”CSPA is proud to work with the Sierra Club to protect Lake Tahoe’s iconic clean waters. Lake Tahoe is no place to be experimenting with herbicides, especially when non-chemical options are available.”


Since 1983, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance has been an advocate for fisheries, habitat, and water quality throughout California.

Posted in Alerts & Advisories, Press Release | Comments Off on California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and Sierra Club Tahoe Area Group Announce Lake Tahoe Lawsuit Victory

State Board’s Proposed Order Set to Expedite and Strengthen Water Quality Certifications for Hydroelectric Projects

On April 9, 2024, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) and other fishing and environmental advocacy groups submitted a response to the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) supporting its recent decision to set aside water quality certifications for five hydroelectric projects.

These projects are the Merced Irrigation District’s (Merced ID) Merced River Hydroelectric Project and Merced Falls Hydroelectric Project, Nevada Irrigation’s District’s (NID) Yuba-Bear Hydroelectric Project, and Modesto Irrigation District (MID) and Turlock Irrigation District’s (TID) Don Pedro Hydroelectric Project and La Grange Hydroelectric Project.

The State Board proposed this order in response to the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA’s) issuance of the final Clean Water Act, Section 401 Water Quality Certification Improvement Rule that took effect in November 2023. The State Board has put the proposed order on the agenda for its meeting on May 7, 2024.

The USEPA’s 2023 Rule prevents the State Board and other certifying authorities from issuing water quality certifications in the absence of a pending request for certification. When the State Board issued water quality certifications for projects managed by Merced ID, NID, MID, and TID, those projects did not have pending requests for certification.


Every hydroelectric project in California that seeks to renew its license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) must obtain a water quality certification or a waiver of certification from the State Board.

Prior to the USEPA’s 2023 Rule, there was ambiguity surrounding whether or not the State Board was authorized to issue a water quality certification for a hydroelectric project if the relevant entity did not have a pending request for certification. The USEPA’s 2023 Rule clarified this issue.

Licensees Have Taken Advantage of Ambiguities

For far too long, Merced ID, NID, MID and TID, and other operators of hydroelectric projects have sought to exploit ambiguities in the regulatory process in order to delay or avoid meeting their responsibilities under Clean Water Act Section 401. These entities have challenged the state’s authority under Section 401 and have tied up water quality certifications in lengthy court battles.

The question of whether the State Board can issue a water quality certification in the absence of a request for certification from the relevant entity is often at the center of these battles. In fact, MID and TID actively withdrew pending requests for certification with the clear aim of not allowing the State Board to issue a certification. At the same time, MID and TID unsuccessfully sought a waiver of the state’s authority to issue a certification.

Each of these entities also deliberately failed to initiate and complete state environmental analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for their respective certifications. The state legislature recognized this practice as obstructionist.

In June of 2020, the California legislature enacted Water Code § 13160 (b)(2) to allow the State Board to issue a water quality certification prior to the completion of the CEQA process “if the state board determines that waiting until completion of that environmental review to issue the certificate or statement poses a substantial risk of waiver of the state board’s certification authority under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act or any other federal water quality control law.”


CSPA and its allies stated in their comments that they largely supported the water quality certifications the State Board issued for these projects. CSPA and allies participated in the respective licensing proceedings for these projects for over a decade and devoted great amounts of time and resources to advocate for “appropriately protective water quality conditions” to be included in these water quality certifications.

Nonetheless, CSPA and allies support the State Board’s proposed order to set aside these water quality certifications. The USEPA’s 2023 rule has the potential to expedite future water quality certifications and, more importantly, will expedite the certification process and “increase the legal defensibility” of the State Board’s water quality certifications.

CSPA and allies further urged the State Board to request that FERC compel the licensees in question to request water quality certification for the projects at issue within 30 days.

Posted in Hydroelectric (FERC), Water Quality | Comments Off on State Board’s Proposed Order Set to Expedite and Strengthen Water Quality Certifications for Hydroelectric Projects

Newsom’s 2023 California Water Plan: Supplying Imaginary Water to Meet an Insatiable Demand

On April 2, 2024, Governor Gavin Newsom announced the release of the 2023 update of the California Water Plan (Water Plan). Governor Newsom announced the Water Plan at a press conference held at Phillips Station in the high Sierra, just after this year’s snowpack was measured there at 113 percent of average.

At the press conference, Governor Newsom stated that the Water Plan contains a new strategy to help California adapt to future cycles of extreme drought and extreme precipitation. At the core of this strategy is the plan to build Sites Reservoir for more storage and the Delta tunnel for more conveyance. The Water Plan also supports the weakening of regulations that could be used to keep more water in rivers to protect public trust resources.

The update of the Water Plan offers no reckoning with the fact that the state constantly promises and delivers more water than falls from the sky or is left in the ground. Rather, the Water Plan outlines a strategy that will continue the same overallocation of the state’s water resources that has led to the near collapse of ecosystems in the Bay-Delta, its tributaries, and beyond.

The Water Plan’s Backward Reasoning

Chapter 3 of the Water Plan describes how healthy watershed ecosystems play a crucial role in “enhancing adaptation to climate change, and ensuring long-term resilience for built infrastructure.”

Chapter 2 of the Water Plan details the destructive force California’s past water management has had on these ecosystems stating, “Reclamation has eliminated most of the state’s historical wetlands. Reduced stream flows, increased temperatures, lack of habitat, pollution, and proliferation of invasive species have affected many fish species across the state. Native fish and wildlife evolved to cope with drought, but prolonged dry periods are increasingly stressful because many streams warm, lessen, or dry up. In many areas, fish and wildlife exposure to these dry periods is often extended or amplified by consumptive water use.”

The Water Plan update doubles down on supplying more water to the unsustainable practices of relentless impoundment and over-diversion of water that have done such tremendous damage to California’s water-dependent ecosystems.

The Water Plan mentions the need to manage demand for water but advocates the fast tracking of the proposed Sites Reservoir and Delta Conveyance Project (Delta tunnel) as new “built backbone infrastructure.”

How Overallocation of Water Impacts Fisheries

California water users have been promised five times more water than exists.

The overallocation of the state’s water resources has deprived the Bay-Delta and its tributaries of so much flow that it has decimated its ecosystem and threatens the survival of native fish. This has led to six native fish species, including two runs of Central Valley Chinook salmon, to be listed as endangered. In 2023, populations of Chinook salmon were so low that California closed its Chinook salmon fishery. On April 10, 2024 the Pacific Fishery Management Council announced that ocean salmon fisheries will continue to be closed for the 2024 season.

The population of white sturgeon in the Bay-Delta has also plummeted due to low flows and warm temperatures. In 2022, these conditions combined with high nutrient levels caused an algal bloom that led to the death of at least 400 white sturgeon. CSPA is currently campaigning to list California’s white sturgeon as threatened under the state and federal endangered species acts.

The Water Plan Weakens Regulations

To make matters worse, objective 6 of the Water Plan calls for creating “regulatory flexibility.” In accordance with this objective, the Water Plan supports the State Water Resources Control Board’s (State Board’s) potential adoption of Voluntary Agreements in the next update to the Bay-Delta Plan.

The Voluntary Agreements are intended to substitute clear enforceable requirements for water users to leave enough water in rivers for the survival of fish and ecosystems. In the past, Voluntary Agreements have failed to protect water quality and have thus failed to protect fish in both wet and dry years.

California State Water Code requires the State Board and other regulators to protect the water quality of the state’s rivers. The Voluntary Agreements shift this responsibility to water users, who are in the business of making a profit from the state’s water resources. The update to the Water Plan advocates for this practice to be the new status quo.


The 2023 Water Plan continues the old paradigm of storing and diverting water first and thinking about the environment second. The state’s past management of water with this mindset has left our rivers, streams, wetlands, and Bay-Delta in poor condition.

This paradigm must change.

CSPA is currently challenging both the proposed Sites Reservoir and Delta tunnel in the courts and through regulatory processes. CSPA is also campaigning to restore rule of law by opposing proposed Voluntary Agreements.

To ensure water security in California and to address climate change, demand for water resources must be brought into alignment with the actual water that is available. Enough water must be left in waterways to ensure the survival of fish, wildlife, and ecosystems. These basic principles should be at the center of the California Water Plan.

Posted in Water Rights | Comments Off on Newsom’s 2023 California Water Plan: Supplying Imaginary Water to Meet an Insatiable Demand

Celebrating the Life and Achievements of Bill Jennings

On Sunday April, 7, 2024, friends of Bill Jennings gathered by the Mokelumne River to remember and celebrate his life and achievements.  The following eulogy was delivered by Chris Shutes, Executive Director of California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

Eulogy for Bill Jennings, by Chris Shutes

Good morning, everyone.  Thank you very much for coming. 

We’re gathered here on this cold but sunny Delta morning to remember our friend and colleague Bill Jennings.  

We remember Bill here on the banks of the lower Mokelumne River, a river that Bill and his friends brought from the brink of ruin to become the home of one of the most abundant salmon runs in California.

Bill did not have family, at least that he talked about or kept up with.  He was an only child.  For the last years of her life, Bill’s mother lived close to Bill in Stockton until her death in 2000.  

So in many regards, Bill’s family, such as it was, was drawn from the ranks of players and actors in the world of California fisheries, water policy, and pollution enforcement.  Most all of us here today are part of that world.  Many others who are part of that world sent regrets, remembrances, and best wishes.

Bill was a profoundly moral man, motivated by an overriding sense of justice and acting for the common good.  It is fair to say he was a moral inspiration to many.  He recognized the power of putting people face to face with their own moral poverty.  His experience as a young man in the civil rights movement and draft resistance in Tennessee surely shaped that recognition.

But for all his time and leadership in the realm of moral persuasion, Bill didn’t have much truck with organized religion.  So it’s left to some of his friends and colleagues to remember him today.  

For the few of you who don’t know me, I’m Chris Shutes.  For seventeen years, I worked for Bill and Bill’s organization, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, otherwise known as C-S-P-A, C-Spa, CalSpa, Sispa, or other, depending on the venue and the epoch of initial acquaintance.  At Bill’s direction, I’ve taken over the leadership of CSPA and a majority of its program work.  And thus it’s also fallen to me to preside today, because it is unimaginable that an event to remember Bill would be organized by any entity other than CSPA.

After he became Executive Director of CSPA in 2005, Bill built CSPA into a powerful statewide advocate for fisheries, abundant water in rivers and estuaries, and clean water.  He was tireless.  I think he had a degree from the University of Tennessee in something, but I have no idea what.  It didn’t matter.  Bill was widely read and, for what he spent the last half of his life doing, almost completely self-taught.  Learning by doing, he figured out how different parts of the regulatory world of water work.  He saw how to adapt lessons on one issue and deploy them on another issue.  And another.  And another.  He was relentless.  

Bill’s career as a water advocate really started with the Committee to Save the Mokelumne in the mid-eighties.  Bill and friends formed the Committee in 1987 following the death of almost all the salmon in the Mokelumne River Fish Hatchery, located right downstream of Camanche Dam about thirty miles east of where we are today.  

There were so many problems.  Mine runoff from the old Penn copper mine was leaching into Camanche Reservoir, killing life in the reservoir and downstream.  The hatchery was also seeing die-offs from high water temperatures, lack of oxygen, and simply lack of flow.

So Bill put his own stamp on the term “all-of-the-above” strategy.  He went after East Bay MUD, the owners of Camanche and the land around it, including Penn Mine, at every regulator he could think of.  He brought in a new organization called CSPA to help.

Among his papers, I found a poster that’s 3 by 3½ feet in size. It’s got about two hundred boxes on it, each of which shows a step in the regulatory pathway Bill blazed and followed to save the Mokelumne.  

So here’s a few of the major trailheads: 

  • Bill filed a complaint against EBMUD at the State Water Board.
  • He filed a public trust lawsuit against EBMUD.
  • He filed a complaint at the regional water quality control board over pollution from Penn Mine.
  • He filed a complaint with, and thus solicited the support of, the San Joaquin County District Attorney, who went after EBMUD in court.
  • He filed a complaint with the US Environmental Protection Agency seeking declaration of Penn Mine as a “point source” of pollution
  • He filed a complaint with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and actually got FERC to re-open EBMUD’s hydropower license.

All of these actions led to further regulatory process, and many ended up in court.  A few of you who are here today were there with Bill on one or more of these pathways. 

And there was another series of what one might call softer-path actions, building support, getting the word out, and addressing a bunch of other problems on the Mokelumne River. It was a full-out campaign.  

In the end, Penn Mine was cleaned up.  That really worked.  There was a settlement agreement among EBMUD and two fish agencies that resolved the FERC and water rights processes.  Bill of course didn’t sign that settlement; he wanted more water.  

As I have come to learn, 10-13 years start to finish is about the time horizon for an awful lot of regulatory processes relating to fish and water.  Sometimes, it’s a lot longer.

The outcomes on Mokelumne, I think, shaped much of what became Bill’s preferences in his advocacy.  He liked water quality enforcement because it has clear standards.  Compliance is not ambiguous.  A judge generally decides if a regulator is unwilling.  

From the Mokelumne experience, Bill learned the power of the Clean Water Act.  And he leveraged it to new levels.  At one point he told me that CSPA had prosecuted more citizen enforcement actions under the Clean Water Act than any other non-profit in the country.  Bill initiated that whole line of advocacy at CSPA. 

Bill thought less of stakeholder processes, like hydropower relicensings.  He sat through a lot them in the nineties.  He lost patience and for the most part eventually lost interest.  He happily left those to Chris.

When Bill died, he left a room full of binders and an attic full of boxes with the paper records of his work, mostly before about 2007 when he started keeping most of his work and records on a computer.  Dave Fries and I spent about eight sessions going through Bill’s paper documents, deciding what was appropriate to send to a new Bill Jennings archive at the University of the Pacific.  There were just under 30 boxes of documents from the Mokelumne campaign of the 80’s and 90’s. There were another 40 boxes of other materials.

It was quite an experience going through those papers, most of which had not been reviewed for a long, long time.  There were records of proceedings relating to the permits for wastewater treatment plants of most of the bigger cities that ring the Delta: Sacramento Regional, Stockton, Manteca, Lodi, Modesto, Lathrop, Davis.  For Sac Regional, there were binders for four separate rounds of permitting.

There were also many files from the days before 2005 when Bill was the Deltakeeper, part of San Francisco Baykeeper.  In those files were folders on a series of local industrial facilities, where someone working for Bill had gone to sites, mostly around Stockton, checking stormwater runoffs.  Included there were photos of the facilities and observations about them.  From that era were a lot of write-ups of water quality samples that people working for Bill had collected in the Delta.

Dave and I heard the story from Ernie Mitchell, who lives on the property Bill rented in Stockton, about how Bill had taken the stove out of the kitchen because he wanted the space for water quality testing equipment.  

In various parts of Bill’s files, I found copies of reports by Felix Smith, the US Fish and Wildlife Biologist who blew the whistle on deformed waterfowl at the Kesterson Wildlife Refuge.  Felix did some of the reports for Bill; others, Felix just sent to Bill so Bill would have them.  I pulled all of those reports; eventually, they’ll end up electronically on CSPA’s website. 

The sheer amount of work those binders and files represent is staggering.  Bill was tireless as well as relentless.

I first met Bill in 2006.  John Beuttler, CSPA’s Conservation Director, had recruited me to represent CSPA in a hydropower licensing proceeding on Butte Creek.  Going to meet Bill at a Denny’s in Sacramento, John told me to not say very much, which of course is a hard thing for me to do.  So I talked a bit about my years of volunteer experience with hydropower.  Bill asked me only one question, which I’ll have to paraphrase at bit.  He asked, “Can you kick an adversary where it hurts and still maintain decorum?”  In this case, I complied with Beuttler’s recommendation and answered with one word: “Absolutely.”  Jennings said “Okay” and got up and left.  The whole interview took less than half an hour. 

As well as being colorful, this story illustrates something about Bill’s approach to advocacy.  You fight to win, but you don’t get to be a jerk.  A key point for CSPA came about 6 months later, when CSPA faced a crisis about how to work with whitewater boaters on the Feather River.  Bill listened to the various opinions and then wrote a memo to the CSPA Board and staff, framing the issue as: “I guess the question before us is whether CSPA can play well with others.”  Some folks saw it differently, and left the Board.  One staff member resigned.  All of a sudden, I became a very busy guy.  I guess that’s part of what happens when you do play well with others.   

As I later learned, Bill had another key principle: you do your homework, and you back up what you say.  It’s all right to have a general way of looking at things.  But being more or less right in general does not mean you can skate on particular issues because you’re a good guy.  Bill’s general view was that the answer to any issue should come down to the evidence. 

I never met anyone who believed more in the law than Bill.  It is no surprise that many of you here today are attorneys, and Bill was profoundly grateful for the work each of you did on his behalf.  One of the things that particularly scared Bill was the Trump administration’s concerted effort to change bedrock environmental laws.  Sometimes bedrock isn’t as solid as you thought it was. 

For the first eight years or so that I worked for Bill, I didn’t really talk with him very much.  He made me show up at the Delta flow criteria workshops in 2010, after I had convinced him they were worth the effort despite the fact that they weren’t going to lead to a final decision.  But mostly, I went my way and he went his.  

Bill and I started talking a lot more in 2014 when the big drought hit.  We had to show up at the Water Board four or five times in a few months to defend weak Delta water quality standards from being made weaker still.  Bill recruited me to draft comments and pull multiple materials and documents together, and he decided I was good enough to do that.  Bill was a very good writer, but he was happy to have someone else do the editorial and administrative grunt work.  One of Bill’s first pieces of advice to me about writing was the phrase “simple declarative sentences.”  In the last few years of Bill’s advocacy, it was I who was shortening his sentences and paragraphs.  He, and others, taught me well. 

By the end of 2015, Bill was having problems getting around such that he really didn’t want to come to Sacramento.  So he’d write a speech the night before a Board meeting, send it to me late at night, and ask me to go before the Board and read it.  Now Bill was a wonderful speaker, but a lot of that had to do with his delivery and his persona, and asking me to read his speeches just wasn’t me or him.  So I’d sometimes change things around a little.  And sure enough, as soon as I’d get done, my cell phone would ring and he’d tell me what I didn’t say.  One day I finally told him that if he had to have it as written, he was going to have to come to Sacramento and say it himself.  After that, we reached détente. 

This of course was all before the days of Zoom and Covid.  Bill was glued to the live video of many Water Board meetings, and I showed up to speak at quite a few.  I learned that about the highest praise I could get from Bill was that I did okay.  Then Bill would spend ten minutes talking about the wonderful speeches of Gary Bobker or Doug Obegi. 

After about 2014, Bill and I also started chatting more on the phone.  In part, it was during weekly calls with Bill, our treasurer Cindy, and our webmaster Denise about the CSPA website and such.  Those calls often digressed.  But I also had more calls about current events or basketball or jazz.  After CSPA President Jim Crenshaw died very unexpectedly in late 2019, my calls with Bill became more frequent. 

Bill was going strong on the work front right up to the day of his auto accident in late June, 2021.  He was staying up till 1 or 2 in the morning writing and researching, and sending out emails, to be sure we got everything in our submittals just right. 

With the accident, it all changed.  Overnight, emails went to near zero.  The fight had pretty well gone out of him.  It was shocking.  And it was immensely sad.  Though the immediate injuries did not seem particularly bad, Bill just never got better.  And after a while, he seemed to stop trying to get better.  The isolation from the age of Covid made the situation way, way worse. 

Kathy Keeling and Dave Fries stepped in so much and kept Bill going for so long.  Eventually they just passed the limits of their ability to help.  When Bill went to an assisted living facility in September 2022, he didn’t even take a computer.  He was past the point of wanting to learn more about using his cell phone.  Covid, on top of all his underlying health problems, caught up with Bill that December.  He never made it home from his “temporary” stay in assisted living.  

Bill was a real aficionado of jazz, and had an impressive collection of jazz CDs.  Near the end of his life, he had several jazz stations dialed up on his computer, and he mostly relied on those.  Austin and outlaw country music sometimes speaks to me in the way jazz spoke to Bill, and I have found myself remembering, before and after Bill’s death, the words of a tune from Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard that says, “we’d’ve taken better care of ourselves if we’d know we were going to live this long.”  I wish Bill had taken better care of himself.  I wish he hadn’t lived the last years of his life so often alone. 

So remember Bill Jennings and the amazing work he did.  Remember his kindness and the profoundness of his concern and his love for humanity, for this earth, for the natural world, and for this Delta.  Remember his dedication and his dauntless work ethic.  And take care of yourselves and each other.  

The most important thing to Bill was that his life’s work in CSPA would continue.  It will continue, and it will continue to cover the breadth of work Bill directed.  It is also making sure there are people to follow who have the knowledge and skills to make it even more effective than it has been to date.

Thank you everyone.  Please stay and talk.  It’s a smallish but very interesting group of people gathered here today.  Those include CSPA staff Sarah Vardaro and Angelina Cook.  They also include CSPA Treasurer Cindy Charles and CSPA webmaster Denise Zitnik.  And they include CSPA Board members Richard Izmirian, Dave Fries, Deirdre des Jardins, and Richard McHenry, as well as Mike Jackson.  Please introduce yourselves to these people as you find them.  

I hope today brings you strong and warm memories of Bill.  Bill would probably say that it was okay, but that my description of some of Bill’s actions and adventures would have been better if Gary Bobker had done it. 




Posted in Water Quality | Comments Off on Celebrating the Life and Achievements of Bill Jennings

PRESS RELEASE: Groups and Tribe Urge Regulators to Control Toxic Pollution from Selenium

PRESS RELEASE April 3, 2024

In an April 1, 2024 letter to three water boards, fishing and conservation groups and a Tribe have urged regulators to control recently measured excess levels of selenium in Mud Slough. Mud Slough drains selenium-impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley into the San Joaquin River and ultimately San Francisco Bay. Selenium is known to cause reproductive failure, deformities, and death in fish and waterfowl.

“Our groups have spent over a decade at the water boards and in court trying to bring runoff from Mud Slough into compliance with water quality standards,” said Chris Shutes, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. “Past selenium discharges accumulated in downstream waters, impacting fish and causing deformities. The water boards need to act to protect fish and wildlife from this toxic pollutant.”

Previous action by the water boards limited discharges of water from Mud Slough to San Joaquin Valley wildlife refuges. It required the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority to instead supply the refuges with better quality groundwater. However, a new plan would resume delivery of water from Mud Slough to the refuges. Considering the history of waterfowl deformities in San Joaquin Valley refuges due to selenium contamination, the proposed change in source water is particularly alarming.

San Joaquin Valley wildlife refuges are part of the Pacific Flyway. Birds that stop in these refuges migrate as far away as Alaska.

The letter cites to a 2018 study which found that selenium deformed Sacramento splittail, a native fish, in the San Joaquin River. It calls on regulators to strengthen the standards for selenium pollution, beginning with a wet-year monitoring program of splittail funded by the Water Authority.

More broadly, the letter calls on the board to enforce existing protective standards for wetlands and to adopt more protective standards consistent with the findings of the Environmental Protection Agency of what is necessary to protect fish and wildlife.

Posted in Press Release, Water Quality | Comments Off on PRESS RELEASE: Groups and Tribe Urge Regulators to Control Toxic Pollution from Selenium

Superior Court Upholds State Board’s Plan to Increase Flows on San Joaquin River but Denies Claims Flows are Inadequate to Protect Fish

In December 2018 the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) adopted updates to the Bay-Delta Plan (Plan) in accordance with its obligations under the Porter-Cologne Act. The updated Plan included flow objectives intended to restore and protect Chinook salmon and Central Valley steelhead in the lower San Joaquin River and its tributaries.

Twelve lawsuits and 116 claims were filed challenging the State Board’s updated Plan. On March 15, 2024, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Stephen Acquisto rejected all lawsuits and claims.

To some degree the court’s decision is a win for California’s fisheries, but the decision also affirmed the discretionary right of the State Board to keep less water in rivers than needed to restore fisheries and aquatic ecosystems.

Why the State Board was Sued

The court ruling for this case is 161 pages long and the details of claims made by petitioners are complex. In the most simple terms, protestants filed lawsuits to challenge the flow objectives proposed by the State Board in its 2018 update to the Bay-Delta Plan.

Several water districts including Westlands Water District and Merced Irrigation District filed lawsuits against the State Board arguing that the flow objectives in the 2018 update to the Plan are arbitrary and as such violate the Porter-Cologne Act. The ruling states that petitioners representing municipal and agricultural interests claimed that the flow objectives required “too much water to be released…without leaving enough for agricultural and municipal uses.”

Several environmental groups including San Francisco Baykeeper and the Bay Institute also challenged the State Board’s updated Plan in court. In their view, the prescribed flow objectives for the San Joaquin, Merced, Tuolumne, and Stanislaus Rivers do not go far enough to protect fish.

Bay-Delta Plan Background

California’s Porter-Cologne Act and the federal Clean Water Act require the State Board to create a water quality control plan for the Bay-Delta. The plan must identify beneficial uses of water in the Bay-Delta. The plan must also establish and implement flow objectives to protect those beneficial uses.

The State Board is supposed to review the Bay-Delta Plan every three years. This review includes water quality standards, notably, flow into and out of the Delta. However, the State Board last established flow objectives for the San Joaquin River in its 1995 update to the Bay-Delta Plan. In a 2010 report, the State Board acknowledged that Bay-Delta inflows and outflows are insufficient to support native fish populations.

To address the decline of fish populations the State Board reassessed the Bay-Delta Plan’s flow objectives for the lower San Joaquin River in its 2018 update. The State Board proposed new flow objectives to sustain “inflow conditions from the San Joaquin River watershed to the Delta at Vernalis sufficient to support and maintain the natural production of viable native San Joaquin River watershed fish populations migrating through the Delta.”

The State Board proposed 40% of unimpaired flow with an adaptive range between 30-50% from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers from February through June. Unimpaired flow refers to the amount of water that would naturally flow in a river in the absence of dams and diversions. The State Board also proposed that from February through June the flow at Vernalis, the San Joaquin River’s confluence with the Stanislaus River, should be no lower than 1,000 cubic feet per second (cfs).

The Problem with the State Board’s Flow Objectives

Stockton East Water District, a protestant in the lawsuit, claims that the State Board “violated the Porter-Cologne Act by erroneously determining that the LSJR [lower San Joaquin River] flow objectives are necessary to provide protection for the LSJR salmon population.” Stockton East Water District went as far as to claim that there is no substantial evidence on the record that shows a significant decline in the salmon population.

The court denied this claim, stating that “there is abundant scientific evidence in the record showing that decreased flows caused by rim dams and reservoir operations have caused a significant decline in the LSJR [Lower San Joaquin River] salmon population.”

San Francisco Baykeeper claimed that the 40% unimpaired flow objective and 1000 cfs minimum at Vernalis, is insufficient to restore and maintain native fish populations. San Francisco Baykeeper points to multiple scientific studies that show “unimpaired flows of 50% to 60% are the minimum necessary to reestablish and sustain fish and wildlife uses.” California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) agrees with this assessment and campaigned for flow objectives consistent with those advocated by SF Baykeeper.

The court also agreed that unimpaired flows of 50% or 60% would better protect native fish in the Lower San Joaquin River. However the court’s ruling determined that the Porter-Cologne Act does not require the State Board to best protect fish, but to reasonably protect fish. The court ruled that 40% unimpaired flow in the Lower San Joaquin River is sufficient to reasonably protect native fish.

How this Ruling Impacts CSPA’s Campaign to Restore Fisheries

To some degree Judge Acquisto’s decision is thus a win for California’s fisheries. The decision upholds the authority of the State Board to limit diversions from the San Joaquin River and its tributaries to protect native fish species. It affirms the use of a percent of unimpaired flow as a reasonable basis for flow objectives (requirements).

However, the decision affirmed the State Board’s discretion to keep flow requirements lower than the flows needed to recover fish and aquatic ecosystems. This part of the decision is extremely concerning, as the State Board now faces proposed “voluntary agreements” that would allow even lower flows throughout the Central Valley. The purpose of the Voluntary Agreements is to replace enforceable protective flows with voluntary and non-flow measures.

CSPA was involved with this lawsuit for some time, but was forced to cease involvement due to procedural matters. CSPA is, however, deeply involved in negotiating better conditions for fish with the State Board as it prepares its next update to the Bay-Delta Plan. CSPA also continues to participate in other legal and regulatory proceedings to secure flows to protect fisheries in the San Joaquin River and its tributaries.


Posted in California Delta, State Board Bay-Delta Standards | Comments Off on Superior Court Upholds State Board’s Plan to Increase Flows on San Joaquin River but Denies Claims Flows are Inadequate to Protect Fish

Memorial for Bill Jennings: April 7, 2024

Join CSPA in celebrating the life and achievements of Bill Jennings, our longtime leader who passed away on December 27, 2022.

Bill was chairman of CSPA’s board of directors since 1988 and its executive director since 2005. Bill’s unique legacy of protecting California fisheries, habitat, and water quality will endure for many years to come.

A BBQ Lunch will be provided at the memorial. When you register please indicate if you will be joining us for lunch.

Wimpy’s Marina Restaurant, Bar & RV Park
14001 W Walnut Grove Rd, Walnut Grove, 95690

Date & time
Apr 7, 2024

Register online by clicking this link
or email Sarah Vardaro at

Posted in Bill Jennings | Comments Off on Memorial for Bill Jennings: April 7, 2024

Department of Water Resources Gets a Free Pass: CSPA Asks State Water Resources Control Board to Follow its Own Rules

On March 15, 2024, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) and allies submitted a letter to the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) requesting that it resolve the protests of CSPA and others of a petition for extension of time submitted by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) in 2009. 

CSPA submitted this letter because the State Board issued notice of DWR’s recent change in point of diversion petition for the Delta Conveyance Project (proposed Delta tunnel) without resolving protests made by CSPA and allies in 2010 regarding the same water rights. 

DWR must be subject to the same laws and procedures as other water rights holders in the Bay-Delta watershed.

Background of DWR’s Petition for Extension 

DWR was required to put water under permits associated with the State Water Project to full beneficial use by December 31, 2009. On the day of the deadline, DWR filed a petition for extension of time. 

On October 13, 2010, CSPA and allies filed a timely protest of DWR’s petition for extension of time with the State Board. CSPA’s protest stated that DWR had not made an accounting of water used under each of its water rights. CSPA further stated that in order to store more water in one year in Oroville Reservoir than DWR had done in the past, DWR would have to draw down the reservoir so far that it would harm fish. 

Today, almost 14 years later, the State Board has not acted on DWR’s petition for extension of time, and CSPA’s protest remains unresolved. 

On June 6 and July 7, 2023, CSPA and allies submitted letters to the State Board regarding their unresolved protests. In these letters CSPA and allies requested that the State Board “clarify the status of DWR’s permits” and assign DWR’s 2009 petition to the Administrative Hearings Office (AHO) for resolution.  The State Board has not responded to these requests. 

On February 22, 2024, DWR filed a petition for change in point of diversion for the proposed Delta Conveyance Project. The State Board issued a notice of that petition just seven days later and gave protestants a mere 60 days to file protests against that new petition. 

State Board Must Follow the Rules

In Water Rights Order WR 2008-045, the State Board described the rules regarding petitions for extension of time: 

The Board’s regulations provide that the Board will grant a petition for an extension of time only upon such conditions as the Board determines to be in the public interest, and only upon a showing that (1) due diligence has been exercised, (2) failure to comply with previous time requirements was caused by obstacles which could not reasonably be avoided, and (3) satisfactory progress will be made if an extension is granted. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 23, § 844.)

The State Water Board has not held DWR’s petition for extension of time to these requirements. 

CSPA and allies conclude in their March 15 letter that the State Board’s “proposed ordering of proceedings is inconsistent with the water rights statutory scheme, implementing regulations, case law, and SWRCB [State Board] Orders in other water rights proceedings.”

DWR’s petition for change in point of diversion for the proposed Delta tunnel should not proceed until the 2010 protests submitted by CSPA and allies are resolved. 

Posted in No Tunnels Campaign, State Board Bay-Delta Standards | Comments Off on Department of Water Resources Gets a Free Pass: CSPA Asks State Water Resources Control Board to Follow its Own Rules

Show Time: DWR Files Petition to Change Water Rights for Delta Tunnel Despite Pending Lawsuit and Widespread Opposition

On February 22, 2024, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) submitted a water rights petition for change in point of diversion to the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) for the Delta Conveyance Project also known as the Delta tunnel.

DWR submitted this petition despite broad opposition to the project from environmental advocacy groups, environmental justice groups, Native American tribes, and Delta cities and counties. CSPA opposes the Delta Conveyance Project  primarily because it would divert more water away from the Bay-Delta, and thus have a detrimental effect on Delta water quality, the Bay-Delta ecosystem generally, and Delta fisheries in particular. CSPA opposed previous incarnations of the Delta Conveyance Project for the same reason.

In the petition, DWR proposes new points of diversion that include two intakes on the Sacramento River between its confluence with Sutter Slough and Freeport. These intakes would each have a maximum capacity of 3000 cubic feet of water per second (cfs).

Fisheries at Risk

Fish in the Delta need increased flows to survive and thrive. For six consecutive years, the Department of Fish and Wildlife found zero Delta smelt in its surveys of the Delta. Longfin smelt have also declined by 99.96%, American shad by 67.9%, splittail by 100%, and threadfin shad by 95%. 

Last year, due to historically low Chinook salmon populations, the California Fish and Game Commission closed recreational salmon fishing in the ocean off California and Central Valley rivers. CSPA has also petitioned the federal and state government to list California’s white sturgeon as “threatened” under the federal and state Endangered Species Acts. 

These species are in decline because too much water is being diverted from the Delta’s tributaries for urban and agricultural use, primarily in southern parts of the state. 

In the face of this ecological crisis, DWR and the Newsom Administration continue to pursue the Delta Conveyance Project, which would divert more water away from the Delta. 

Background of CSPA’s Opposition to the Delta Conveyance Project

In 2020, CSPA and others opposed a “validation” action by DWR to fund the Delta Conveyance Project. In January 2024, a superior court judge ruled against DWR in this matter. This means that DWR has no way to fund its project for the moment. It is likely that the Newsom Administration will try to pass a new law that voids the court’s ruling.

On December 8, 2023, DWR published a Final Environmental Impact Report for the Delta Conveyance Project and later approved the project by filing a Notice of Determination. 

In January, CSPA joined a lawsuit against DWR. CSPA and its allies sued DWR on the grounds that the Final Environmental Impact Report does not adequately consider the project’s potential negative impact on water quality, fish, and wildlife. It does not say how the project and upstream reservoirs would operate and does not propose flows for the Delta as required by law. 

The Choice Between Fisheries and the Delta Conveyance Project

In its recently released “Salmon Strategy,” the Newsom Administration stated its goals are to “recover salmon in this state across their range … while also reducing the risk of extinction”. Reaching these goals “will require abundant, healthy populations of salmon that return to California’s rivers each year.” 

The Newsom Administration cannot have it both ways. Chinook salmon and other species of native fish in the Bay-Delta need increased flows to survive. The Delta tunnel will reduce inflow and outflow in the Bay-Delta. 

The State Board has a legal mandate under California’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act to protect beneficial uses of water within the Bay-Delta. If the State Board acts in accordance with its legal mandates, it will deny DWR’s petition for change in point of diversion. 

CSPA will continue its campaign to stop the Delta tunnel by presenting testimony and through legal participation in the State Board’s water rights hearing for the petition, which will likely start near the end of 2024.

You can help CSPA defeat the Delta tunnel by donating to our No Delta Tunnel campaign today. 

Posted in California Delta, No Tunnels Campaign, Water Rights | Comments Off on Show Time: DWR Files Petition to Change Water Rights for Delta Tunnel Despite Pending Lawsuit and Widespread Opposition

Newsom “Strategy” Condemns Central Valley Salmon to “Hotter, Drier Future”

The “California Salmon Strategy” announced January 30, 2024 by the Newsom Administration is a tour de force of avoidance and deflection. It blows right past the single largest issue facing California’s salmon: inadequate flows into and through the Bay-Delta Estuary.

The Newsom administration has been, and continues to be, on the wrong side of Delta flow. The new Strategy document does not cure that unacceptable position. On the contrary, it ducks it.

The Newsom administration is the ringleader of the “Voluntary Agreements” that would increase Delta inflow and outflow by an average of about 5%. A flow increase of 5% is far, far short of what the State Water Board is proposing for the update of the Bay-Delta Plan and what its science says Central Valley salmon need. If it were dollars, 5% wouldn’t even pay the sales tax.

Worse, the Newsom administration is a vocal supporter of two huge water development projects in the Central Valley: the proposed tunnel under the Delta (branded “Delta Conveyance”), and Sites Reservoir. Those two projects alone would take more water out of the Delta than the Voluntary Agreements would put in.

The net result of marginal increases in Central Valley flow – or net loss of flow with the tunnel and Sites – means that salmon in Central Valley rivers and the Delta will face conditions that are drier and hotter than today. And today’s conditions for salmon are so bad that salmon fishing was closed in 2023 and is almost certain to be closed in 2024.

If the Newsom administration:

•   Directs the State Water Board to update the Bay-Delta Plan           without the woeful Voluntary Agreements;
•   Abandons the tunnel and opposes Sites; and
•   Adds definition and specificity to a lot of the vague promises         in its Strategy document;

then it would have a pretty decent salmon strategy.

Digging Deeper into Newsom’s Plan

The positive elements in the Strategy don’t offset the issues avoided. The positive elements primarily deflect attention from the Newsom Administration’s fundamental shortcomings on salmon management.

In addition, many of the potentially positive elements are vague, programmatic, qualified with wiggle words like “depending on available resources,” and/or aspirational.

Still, what’s in the Strategy warrants analysis and improvement.

Fish Passage and Dam Removal

The Strategy calls for removing two dams on the Eel River. The clear support is new and is particularly welcome. Scott Dam and Cape Horn Dam need to go. Quickly. State support is not likely to define the outcome, but may accelerate and help finance it.

The Strategy calls for completing already-underway dam removal projects on the Klamath River, Matilja Creek, and Malibu Creek. The State had a big role in Klamath dams getting out, and deserves a huge amount of credit. State support may hasten completion of the other removal projects.

The Yuba fish passage plans are a mixed bag.

Salmon reintroduction to the upper Yuba River needs to happen, and has been under study and in planning for three decades. But the current funding plan for a pilot reintroduction of salmon upstream of major Yuba River dams had a separate cost to salmon: State support for status quo flows in the lower Yuba River. Trading habitat for flow, a frequent theme of the Newsom administration, is not acceptable.

In addition, the planned fishway at Daguerre Point Dam in the lower Yuba River would, for the first time, allow striped bass, which eat juvenile salmon, direct access to areas in the lower Yuba where most salmon now spawn and grow. The fishway design needs to be fixed so that doesn’t happen.

The Strategy proposes “fish passage” on Battle Creek dams. PG&E is planning to abandon the use of those dams, though, true to form, PG&E is slow-rolling the process. The Battle Creek dams accessible to salmon under natural conditions don’t need fish passage. Those Battle Creek dams need removal, and the sooner the better.

There are several proposed fish passage improvements on the lower Feather River. They are good. They should have happened a long time ago.

There is a support for further development of a pilot trap-and-haul reintroduction of salmon to the upper North Fork Feather River, and for parallel improvements at the Feather River Fish Hatchery to support that project. Great idea. We support. This took almost 20 years to start while PG&E and the State Water Contractors slow-rolled the Oroville Habitat Expansion Plan.

The Strategy proposes further evaluation of salmon reintroduction above dams. The Tuolumne is a leading candidate, and most of the initial evaluation is already done. The Governor needs to twist some arms in San Francisco to get a Tuolumne reintroduction program started.

There are programmatic measures, for the most part all good, though many are too vague or uncertain to truly evaluate.

Habitat Restoration and Expansion

The Strategy proposes to plan many projects to restore and expand habitat.  They are generally good things.  They are not a substitute for adequate flow.

Flow “in Key Rivers at the Right Times”

Recall that the primary purpose of the Strategy is avoidance and deflection of Delta flow issues, the Delta tunnel, and Sites Reservoir.

The phrase “at the right times” is a code word for “using as little water as possible.” “In key rivers” means “as little water in the Delta as possible.”

The Strategy does discuss the update of the Bay-Delta Plan. It is worth quoting Section 3.4 exactly, because the deception is subtle:

By 2025, adopt an updated Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan, which could include potential Voluntary Agreements to Support Healthy Rivers and Landscapes, to protect beneficial uses including the protection of salmon, steelhead, and other
native aquatic species.

Not only “could” an updated Bay-Delta Plan include Voluntary Agreements, those agreements will be the Plan if the Newsom administration has anything to say about it. The administration sent the Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency to lobby the State Water Board hard on the Voluntary Agreements on December 11, 2023. Every indication is that if the Board does not accept the Voluntary Agreements, the administration will revert from a position urging haste to its previous position of promoting indefinite delay.

For geographic areas where there is less formidable pushback, the Strategy is more aggressive. It promotes flows requirements on the Scott and Shasta rivers, though with happy buzzwords that speak long on process and short on results (“local partners on locally driven solutions and coordinating on options for incentivizing the reduction of diversions and groundwater pumping.”)

In 2024, the Strategy will “begin review” of flows on Antelope, Mill, and Deer creeks.

In 2025, the Strategy promises to “continue advancing collaborative work with stakeholder groups to implement flow solutions in Butte Creek.” The collaborative work on the upper reaches of Butte Creek has been stymied for 18 years. What is needed there is not “flow solutions.” What’s needed is reliable delivery of water from the West Branch Feather River to Butte Creek. If the State really wants to help, it should take over PG&E’s dog-eared DeSabla hydroelectric project and bypass its leaky old Hendricks Canal with a tunnel.

There are other long-deferred projects to set instream flows on priority streams, “depending on available resources.” They’re all good things to do, if they happen.

Hatchery Upgrades

They’re all good; CSPA supports. Hatcheries are a stopgap, but as long as they’re needed, they ought to be managed to produce fish efficiently, reliably, and abundantly. Survival of hatchery smolts trucked to the Bay or ocean is up to two orders of magnitude greater than smolts released from hatcheries into rivers in dry years. Filtration for hatcheries is needed across the board, especially, but not only, to enable reintroduction of salmon upstream of hatcheries.

The Merced River needs a new salmon hatchery upstream of Lake McSwain. The Merced also needs a conservation hatchery for native trout from remnant populations in and around Yosemite, and perhaps for spring-run salmon for reintroduction to the Tuolumne.

Improving Technology and Management

It’s hard to argue with improving technology. However, old marking technology did allow the potential for marking all hatchery fish to create a “mark-selective” salmon fishery that would allow harvest of hatchery fish only in years following small runs of spawning salmon. Given recent events, this is worth another look.

As far as management goes, most of the previous efforts at management committees for salmon oversight have not gone well. They have been dominated by politics and economics. The single greatest prospective management improvement for salmon is better management of water to assure salmon of adequate flows and cold water.


The administration’s recent emphasis on partnership with Tribes is all to the good. Perhaps soon that will extend to the repeatedly expressed concerns of many Central Valley Tribes, who have argued that lack of flow and poor water quality impedes Tribal beneficial uses.

On another front, the Strategy says: “While regulatory tools help establish standards, they have limitations . . .” From our perspective, the limitations are primarily that the State’s regulators pass weak standards according to what their “partners” in the regulated water community decide they can live with. Then the regulators substitute “partnership” and “collaboration” for enforcement.

The culture of anti-regulation becomes acute after the over-delivery of water in a first dry year, followed by the Governor’s “emergency” weakening of standards in dry years that follow. Salmon have gotten hammered in droughts in the last decade. Any serious response to protecting salmon under climate change involves knocking off the “temporary” change gambits that weaken protections in every dry year.

As for environmental and fishing non-governmental organizations, the administration’s price for “partnership” in the Central Valley has been acceptance of the unacceptable: Voluntary Agreements, Delta tunnel, Sites Reservoir. And “emergency” drought proclamations.


The treatment of Central Valley and Delta flow in the Newsom Administration’s new Salmon Strategy is reminiscent of the lines from Harry Belafonte:

She brought me a little coffee
She brought me a little tea
Well, she brought me nearly every damned thing
But she didn’t bring the jailhouse key

The key to the Governor’s escape from the confinement of bad salmon management is addressing the big, hard issues. The same thing that’s wrong with the Governor’s Salmon Strategy is what was wrong with the Governor’s Water strategy (“California’s Water Supply Strategy: Adapting to a Hotter, Drier Future,” August 2022): the State needs to confront its overallocation of water.

The State needs to devote enough water, through flow and storage, to salmon and other elements of the Bay-Delta watershed’s ecosystem. That begins with adoption of a high-flow Bay-Delta Plan and reductions in agricultural water use, both structurally and in response to short-term hydrology.

The Governor’s supply-side approach to water supply, most acutely embodied in his support of the proposed Delta tunnel and Sites Reservoir, is backwards. As long as Central Valley salmon are relegated to the leftovers of an ever-shrinking natural supply of water, they will never recover.

Posted in Authors, California Delta, Chris Shutes | Comments Off on Newsom “Strategy” Condemns Central Valley Salmon to “Hotter, Drier Future”

How A Lack of Regulatory Oversight Dried Up the Merced River – The State Water Board Needs to Protect Merced River Flows Now

Merced River, Yosemite Valley, Oct. 2022 / Dead Lower Merced River  Aug. 2022

The Merced River, the iconic wild and scenic river flowing out of Yosemite National Park, died in the summer of 2022 upstream of its confluence with the San Joaquin River.  The river was completely dewatered from July 7 to October 7.

It was dead for 3 months over a nearly 5-mile stretch.  It could not offer fishing, swimming or any other water-based recreation in the hot summer months.  In the early fall, the Chinook salmon were unable to migrate on schedule to the Merced to spawn, and total fish return numbers for the year were dismal.  Their migratory route, the river, had been transformed into a dry wash used as a raceway for off-highway vehicles.

This wasn’t the first time the Merced River died, but hopefully it will be the last time.  The California State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board or Board) must do its job and take action now to ensure year-round minimum flows for the river.

On January 8, 2024, CSPA joined Friends of the River in sending a joint letter to the State Water Board urging it to adopt permanent minimum flow regulations on the Merced River to prevent this disaster from ever happening again.  Our letter was in support of letters that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) sent to the Board in the fall of 2022 and spring of 2023.

These letters alerted the Water Board of the severity of the dewatering and included the following key points:

  • Requiring flows for only a portion of the year is not adequate. (Note: The approved 2018 Bay-Delta Plan Amendment only has required minimum flows from Feb. – June, none for the hot, dry months of summary/fall. In addition, the Plan has yet to be implemented).  Year-round flows are needed to assure base flows over the dry season.  NMFS recommended interim base flows in the lower river derived from the California Environmental Flows Framework (CEFF) until future studies can refine necessary flows.
  • Permanent minimum flows in the Merced River are needed to provide a migration corridor for federally-listed Central Valley steelhead and for spring-run and fall-run Chinook salmon.  The Merced River needs to be connected to the San Joaquin River with enough water depth for fish to pass upstream to the spawning grounds.
  • The Board should immediately expand necessary monitoring, evaluation,
    and reporting of water diversions to ensure compliance with existing water rights in the Merced River watershed.
  • The Basin Plan for Sacramento and San Joaquin River Basins identifies the beneficial uses of the Merced River from McSwain Reservoir to the San Joaquin River as: recreation, including fishing, canoeing and rafting; warm and cold freshwater habitat; migration; spawning; and wildlife habitat.  All these beneficial uses require flowing water in the stream.
  • Flows at the confluence of the Merced River are essential for an overall functioning ecosystem and riparian habitat in this major watershed.

In response to these letters, Board staff met with NMFS and CDFW staff for a discussion in early 2023.  So far, the Board has yet to propose any solutions.

On December 5, 2022, Merced Irrigation District (Merced ID) submitted a letter to the Board in response to NMFS’s October 27, 2022 letter.  Merced ID outlined its compliance with its regulatory flow requirements at compliance points on the river.   It found “flow losses in the lower river downstream” from Shaffer Bridge.  Merced ID also wrote it is aware that a number of unauthorized and unpermitted diversions have contributed to reduced flows and drier river conditions downstream of Merced ID’s diversions and in the areas described in NMFS’s letter.  Merced ID wrote that it has repeatedly requested that the State Board take action to regulate and limit those unauthorized diversions, including appointing Merced ID as watermaster for the lower river.  Merced ID requested that the Board take charge of investigating possible illegal diversions.

Another example of the Board’s failure to take action is illustrated in a 2016 water rights complaint made by the Stevinson Water District  (SWD), which is located at and around the confluence of the Merced and San Joaquin Rivers.  SWD wrote that the Merced was “a practically dead river,” and that flows were zero at Stevinson according to the CDEC water gauge.  The letter requested immediate investigation of unlawful diversions. The Board’s much-delayed response, after a five year wait, was a letter dated July 23, 2021.  The Board stated, “During the previous drought the Division’s resources were overwhelmed, and we were unable to process your complaint.  It is impractical for staff now to investigate alleged violations from the previous drought… For this reason, the Division [of Water Rights] is exercising discretion and will take no further action on this complaint.”

CSPA agrees that there is a need for more robust monitoring of any and all diversions on the lower Merced River.  The issue does not stop at unauthorized diversions.  The State Water Board must also prevent authorized diversions from cumulatively drying up the river.  It is well-settled law that “no party can acquire a vested right to appropriate water in a manner harmful to public trust interests and the state has ‘an affirmative duty’ to take the public trust into account in regulating water use by protecting public trust uses whenever feasible.” (Light vs. State Water Board).  It is also well-settled law that “no one can have a protectible interest in the unreasonable use of water.” Id.

Several mechanisms come to mind.  A responsible entity is one: to shut down unauthorized diversions, to curtail diversions in order of priority, and to limit riparian diversions to natural flow and the flows released by Merced ID to meet the adjudicated Cowell Agreement.  Another potential mechanism is the water quality certification for the Merced River Project relicensing: requiring enough flow at Shaffer Bridge to keep the river watered to the confluence with the San Joaquin.  The flows required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission aren’t doing the job now, and as proposed, likely won’t do the job under a new FERC license either.

CSPA urges the State Water Board take action now to prevent future dewatering.  It remains an unaddressed, unregulated, and unenforced problem.  With no consequences or enforcement during past dewatering events, it was no surprise the dewatering occurred again during California’s latest extended drought.  The lower Merced River needs permanent protections requiring year-round base flows as well as enforcement of water rights.

 Further Background:

The New York Times published an article on January 18, 2023 about the Merced River dewatering which called into question the State Water Board’s ability to manage water supplies.

For additional photos, maps, flow data, and salmon return information about the Merced River dewatering in 2022, go to the California Department of Fish & Game’s Case Study: Lower Merced River Disconnect:

The California Data Exchange  water gage at Stevinson on the Merced River near the confluence with the San Joaquin River provides current and historical flow information.

Posted in Water Quality | Comments Off on How A Lack of Regulatory Oversight Dried Up the Merced River – The State Water Board Needs to Protect Merced River Flows Now

CSPA Submits Comments on Proposed Bay-Delta Plan Update

On Friday, January 19, 2024, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and AquAlliance submitted comments on the State Water Resources Control Board’s (State Board’s) proposed changes to the Bay-Delta Plan.

The State Board proposed these changes in a Draft Staff Report (Report) released on September 28, 2023. The stated objective of the Plan update is to provide for “the reasonable protection of fish and wildlife in the Sacramento River and its tributaries, Delta eastside tributaries (including the Calaveras, Cosumnes, and Mokelumne Rivers), and Delta.”

The release of the Report is welcome. As stated in the comments, “The status of the aquatic ecosystem and fisheries of the Bay-Delta estuary and its greater watershed is dire and worsening.  We urge the State Water Board to act urgently on the Report with an update to the Bay-Delta Plan that supports restoration of the ecosystem.”

The Report proposes a Delta inflow and outflow objective of 55% of the unimpaired flow. CSPA supports the approach of the objective in using a percent of unimpaired flow. However, 55% does not provide enough flow to restore the Bay-Delta watershed and estuary or to “support and maintain the natural production of viable native fish populations.”

CSPA’s comments also support the proposed “complementary” objective of maintaining reservoir storage to protect water temperatures and to have a reserve in case the following years are dry.

The comments call on the State Board to conduct further analysis to allow sufficient flow to restore ecosystems while maintaining reservoir storage and limiting impacts to water supply.  CSPA states that agricultural water supply must be limited compared to current use, especially in dry years and dry year sequences.

CSPA criticizes the Report for failing to give due weight to the common-law public trust doctrine and to the reasonable use doctrine as part of the foundation of the Report’s analysis.  In California, water “belongs to the people.” “Put in the context of rights to water, a user of water must respect the rights and interests of others, including the peoples’ property right to robust fisheries, clean water, and healthy ecosystems.”

In general, the comments approve of the scope of issues that the Report tackles, including objectives or alternatives that address Delta export limitations, droughts, the direction of flows within the Delta, new water rights, and increased diversions. However, the solutions the Report proposes generally don’t take the direction far enough to meet the legal requirements to effectively protect fish and wildlife.

CSPA’s comments excoriate the Report’s inclusion of the Voluntary Agreements (VAs). “The Voluntary Agreements have no business in the Draft Staff Report.” The VAs were negotiated amongst water user interests and government agencies without environmental groups, native tribes, and other stakeholders. The purpose of the VAs is to replace protective flows with physical habitat changes and money.

CSPA concludes by calling on the State Board to correct the errors and omissions in the Report, to conduct additional analysis, and to produce a revised report consistent with the law.

A timeline for next steps is not yet clear, but the State Board has announced its intention to act on the Report by the end of 2024.

Posted in State Board Bay-Delta Standards | Comments Off on CSPA Submits Comments on Proposed Bay-Delta Plan Update

The Delta Conveyance Project: Either We Survive Together or Perish Together

On December 8th, 2023, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) issued the Final Environmental Impact Report (Final EIR) for its proposed Delta Conveyance Project, informally called the Delta tunnel.

During the required comment period following DWR’s release of its Draft Environmental Impact Report (Draft EIR), the public, native tribes, and non-governmental organizations submitted 700 letters and 7,000 comments. Many of these letters and comments raised substantive concerns about the Project’s potential negative impact on the environment and on communities who live within the Delta region and watersheds.

DWR claims that its Final EIR  “responds to all substantive comments.” Chris Shutes, executive director of California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) said DWR simply affirmed that its Draft EIR “was right on just about everything,” but was (perhaps unintentionally) candid in recognizing that “[i]ncreased flow through the Delta is not consistent with the project purpose” of the Delta tunnel.

Key Facts about the Delta Conveyance Project

The Delta Conveyance Project is a proposed 40-foot-diameter tunnel that would extend for approximately 45 miles. The proposed underground tunnel would take water from the Sacramento River before it enters the Delta. The water would then enter the State Water Project’s (SWP’s) 444-mile-long aqueduct to be exported for agricultural and urban use in central and southern California.

DWR’s Final EIR said that since the 1960s, when the SWP began, “regulatory changes intended to better protect fish and wildlife resources in the Delta “have reduced the amount of water that the SWP can export from the Delta to central and southern California.”

Delta smelt, for example, are an endemic species vital to the Delta’s ecosystem. In the 1980s the Delta smelt population declined by more than 80 percent. In 1993 Delta smelt were listed as threatened under federal and California endangered species acts. In 2007, this designation forced DWR to cease pumping water when hundreds of Delta smelt perished at south Delta pumps.

Governor Newsom and DWR assert that the Delta Conveyance Project will improve the SWP’s ability to export water to southern parts of the state in the face of climate change, droughts, potential earthquakes, and levee failures. They frame it as “modernizing” infrastructure. Delta defenders respond that the concept is 30-plus years old and uses modernist branding to justify the obsolete strategy of diverting still more water from an overtapped ecosystem.

Potential Impact to Fisheries

Dan Bacher reported that in 2022, the Department of Fish and Wildlife found zero Delta smelt in their surveys of the Delta. Bacher also reported that according to the CSPA, longfin smelt had declined by 99.96%, American shad by 67.9%, splittail by 100%, and threadfin shad by 95%.

The Center for Biological Diversity reported that “at least a dozen of the Delta’s original 29 indigenous fish species have been eliminated entirely or are currently threatened with extinction.”

Jon Rosenfeld, science director at San Francisco Baykeeper said the “Delta tunnel will divert excessive amounts of water from the Bay, and make matters worse for the fish and communities that depend on this ecosystem. The science clearly demonstrates that fish need increased river flows to survive, but state agencies are ignoring it.”

Rosenfeld went on to say “Because of excessive water diversions, the list of fish native to San Francisco Bay and its watershed that are verging on extinction continues to grow, and our fisheries are increasingly shut down.”

Department of Water Resources Responds to Comments

In ‘Common Responses,’ Volume Two of the Final EIR, DWR said that many commenters asserted that the Department’s Draft EIR, “should have included objectives to restore the Delta ecosystem, restore populations of specific species,” and “protect Delta water quality.”

DWR responded saying commenters had incorrectly conflated the goals of the Delta Conveyance Project with the goals of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Reform Act of 2009. The Delta Reform Act of 2009 recognized that protecting the Delta’s ecosystem was of equal importance to securing a reliable water supply, a “coequal goal.”

DWR said that the underlying purpose of the Delta Conveyance Project was not to restore the Delta. DWR went on to say that it has the discretion to address the risks to SWP exports “without also restoring the Delta ecosystem” as long as sometime, somebody else takes care of the ecosystem.

More specifically, DWR said it has no responsibility to recommend flows through the Delta. This statement runs contrary to the purpose of producing a Final EIR for the Delta Conveyance Project. The purpose of producing a Final EIR for the Project is to inform the State Water Board and DWR of the Project’s potential negative impacts and the potential strategies to mitigate those impacts. A Final EIR for the Delta Conveyance Project that omits discussion of recommended flows through the Delta does not adequately support the decision making of the State Water Board and DWR.

Further, the Delta Reform Act explicitly requires: “Any order [by the State Board] approving a change in the point of diversion of the State Water Project or the federal Central Valley Project from the southern Delta to a point on the Sacramento River shall include appropriate Delta flow criteria…” [emphasis added]

An Alternative Path

To assure that the goal of restoring the Delta ecosystem is achieved, CSPA offers an alternative pathway to the overdevelopment of California’s water resources.

  • Above all, bring water allocation into balance with actual supplies and reduce water exported from the Delta, in part by retiring drainage-impaired lands on the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley.
  • Route freshwater through the Delta and increase outflow to restore and protect the estuary’s water quality and fisheries.
  • Raise and strengthen existing Delta levees to withstand potential earthquakes, floods and rising sea levels for a fraction of the cost of peripheral conveyance.
  • Increase reliance on local water supplies by investing equivalent dollars in reclamation, reuse and conservation.

For further discussion, see also the Revised Environmental Water Caucus Report.

The Next Steps

On December 21st, 2023, the Department of Water Resources published the Notice of Determination (NOD) for the Delta Conveyance Project. The publication of the NOD initiates the 30-day period in which the public can file litigation against the Project Plan and the Final EIR. CSPA will be one of the litigants.

In 2024, DWR will file a petition to change its water rights to include a new point of diversion in the north Delta. Later, the State Water Board will issue a notice of DWR’s petition and solicit protests. At least six months after protests are filed, the State Water Board will hold hearings on DWR’s request to change its water rights. Similar hearings in the past lasted more than two years.

The End Game

 Proposals to build an alternative conveyance to export Sacramento River water to the southern parts of the state have come and gone for decades. Yet, every iteration of the Delta Conveyance Project has failed to reach the point of breaking ground.

In part, these failures have been due to the work of what Bill Jennings, former executive director of CSPA called the “oddest coalition” of fishing groups, environmental advocacy groups, Native American Tribes, environmental justice groups, Delta agriculturalists, and business people.

In a 2012 documentary produced by Restore the Delta, Jennings said these groups have come together to “fight for this estuary because it’s worth fighting for, it’s a special place.”  “We all recognize that we’re going to survive together or we’re going to perish together. Our fates are intertwined.”


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CSPA Strong after 40 Years: We Will Not Surrender this Delta!

The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance celebrated its fortieth birthday in 2023.  CSPA’s year of birth, 1983, was one year after California voters voted down the “peripheral canal” to divert water around the Delta.

CSPA’s mission to protect fisheries, habitat, and water quality is a good idea that lives on.

Unfortunately, the Department of Water Resources’ obsession to divert fresh Sacramento River around the Delta is a bad idea that just won’t die.

From about 2006 to 2014, it was recalled to life as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, or BDCP.

From 2015 to 2018, DWR jauntily rebranded it the “California WaterFix,” aka the “twin tunnels.”

Now, certified by DWR in December 2023, it’s the Environmental Impact Report for the “Delta Conveyance Project.”  Soon to follow is another massive water rights hearing.

DWR says it’s about a single tunnel around and under the Delta.

CSPA says it’s a project to convey the Delta straight to hell.

CSPA needs your support to drive a stake back into the heart of the project that once again rises from the dead.  Please join CSPA, renew your membership, and/or make your year-end donation to CSPA today!  It’s all tax-deductible.  And it’s for a natural legacy that’s worth saving, now more than ever.

There is so much we could say.  But in recognition of the first anniversary of the death of CSPA’s longtime leader Bill Jennings, we can’t say it much better than Bill Jennings’s 2013 Speech at Rally Protesting Bay Delta Conservation Plan, for which we also provide a link on YouTube.

Text of Bill Jennings’s 2013 speech: 

Good afternoon. And so on this chilly Friday the 13th, the BDCP public comment period begins. They gave us 40,214 — I counted ’em — pages of documents. And that’s a nine-foot-high stack containing 20 more pages than the 32 volumes of the last printed edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. And we’re asked to provide comments within 85 working days — that’s 473 pages a day. And if you want a printed copy, you can go over and they’ll show you one for 3000 dollars. And when you turn the pages, you’ll discover what William Burroughs meant when he observed that a paranoid schizophrenic is simply someone who’s discovered what’s going on.

Since the State Water Project began exporting water in 1967, water exports have increased by more than 60%. Outflow to the Bay has declined by more than 40%. The flow and water quality standards protecting the Delta have been violated hundreds of times without a single enforcement action taken. The Water Code area of origin/watershed protection statutes have been ignored, and so it’s not surprising that the Delta’s biological tapestry is hemorrhaging. Populations of Delta smelt are down 98.9%. Striped bass 99.6%. Longfin smelt 99.7%. American shad 89.1. Threadfin shad 98.1 and Splittail 99.4%. And the anadromous fisheries have experienced similar declines. For example, winter-run salmon and wild steelhead are down 95.5 and 91.7%, respectively. Fisheries that evolved over millennia have been destroyed by greed in mere decades.

And now the architects of this biological meltdown present us with a 40,000-page omelet of distortion, junk science, half-truths and outright lies designed to create an artificial reality that you can restore an estuary disintegrating from lack of fresh water flow by stealing more water from it. They proposed to build the tunnels now and decide how to operate ’em later. That’s not restoration. That’s a death sentence for one of the world’s great estuaries.

Well, you won’t find any ideas or answers to how much water the Delta needs, how much water will be exported. Who has the legal rights to this water? And who is going to pay for this $50 billion scheme? Nor will you find responses to the federal agencies and independent scientists who have scathingly criticizing the draft versions of the scheme as biased, flawed, unsupported and highly speculative. That it will lead to species extinction. The State Water Board’s observations that the tunnels will provide less water than presently exported, if adequate fishery protection measures are established.  Independent economists, who have ridiculed the economic assessment and pointed out the huge financial risks.

It will saddle the public with vast debt, undermine regional water self-sufficiency, and the water will simply be too expensive for farmers unless heavily subsidized by urban ratepayers. We will not allow our fisheries, farms, communities and future prosperity to be sacrificed to enrich a south Valley industrial agriculture that comprises 3/10 of 1% of the state economy and is predicated upon embezzled water, massive public subsidies, unrestricted pollution, and subsistence wages.

We’ll fight this abominable scheme through the administrative halls, the court rooms, and the ballot box if necessary. If necessary, we’ll fight over channels and sloughs and on the television, through the field to the very gates of hell. We will not surrender this Delta! Thank you.

Renew your membership, join CSPA, or donate today!!!

Posted in No Tunnels Campaign, Press Release | Comments Off on CSPA Strong after 40 Years: We Will Not Surrender this Delta!

California’s White Sturgeon: An Endangered Species within the Foreseeable Future

On November 30th, 2023, San Francisco Baykeeper, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA), the Bay Institute, and Restore the Delta petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to list the state’s white sturgeon as “threatened” under the California Endangered Species Act. The coalition also petitioned United States Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and NOAA Fisheries to list California’s white sturgeon as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

San Francisco Bay and parts of its watershed are home to California’s only population of reproducing white sturgeon. Since the early 2000’s, writes Robin Meadows, white sturgeon abundance has dropped by two-thirds. San Francisco Baykeeper science director Jon Rosenfield said that the Bay’s white sturgeon population “has experienced a persistent and dramatic population decline because state and federal agencies allow too much fresh water to be diverted from the Bay’s Central Valley tributaries to supply industrial agriculture and large cities.”

Mismanaged water, pollution, algal blooms, and overharvest are “speeding the white sturgeon down the road to extinction.” The coalition’s petitions state that “these problems are independent of each other – addressing just one or two of these major problems will not eliminate the high risk” that the Bay’s white sturgeon will become endangered. The coalition also said that protecting the Bay’s white sturgeon from extinction requires “a coordinated response to these individual and collective threats.”

Key Features of the White Sturgeon’s Life Cycle

White sturgeon are large, resilient fish that can weigh up to 500 pounds and can live for up to a hundred years. The coalition’s petition states that the long lifespan of white sturgeon has historically enabled them to “persist and maintain a relatively stable population through periods where riverine spawning and early rearing habitats were unsuitable,” such as drought conditions. On the other hand, white sturgeon can take up to 19 years to reach reproductive maturity. Thus, “Reliably high adult survival is essential to the success” of the population.

The Bay’s white sturgeon spend most of their lives in saltwater but return to deep freshwater to spawn. White sturgeon can spawn multiple times within their lifespan but do not spawn every year. As stated in the petition, “Successful reproduction occurs episodically, when spring-summer river flows are high enough to support incubation and early rearing success.”

The Role of Water Management in the Decline

The Bay’s white sturgeon population can withstand naturally occurring droughts, but it cannot withstand, as stated by Gary Bobker of the Bay Institute, “California’s disastrous water management policies.”

The Newsom Administration continues to move ahead with water policies and developments that will divert more water away from the Bay. Sites Reservoir and the Delta Conveyance Project (Delta tunnel) are two of these developments. The petition states that if Sites Reservoir and the Delta tunnel come to fruition, they would “reduce the frequency and magnitude of high spring-summer Delta inflows and outflows.” This in turn would reduce the “frequency and magnitude” of successful white sturgeon reproduction.

The State Water Resources Control Board has admitted that “existing requirements for water quality and flow” do not adequately protect white sturgeon and other native fish. While the State Board has issued a draft staff report that proposes new flow standards for the Bay-Delta estuary, the petition states that the new standards as proposed will still fall short in providing white sturgeon with the flow conditions they need to “sustain their populations and fully recover.”

The State Board has also allowed a consortium of water users to propose “Voluntary Agreements” as an alternative in the standard-setting process. These agreements among state water contractors and agencies would provide far less flow in the Delta and its tributaries than the State Board’s proposed new standards.

Algal Blooms in the Bay Have Killed Hundreds of White Sturgeon

Over the past two years, there have been catastrophic algal blooms in the greater San Francisco Bay that caused the death of hundreds of mature white sturgeon.

Nutrient-rich effluent from nearby municipal wastewater treatment plants and oil refineries have made the Bay “one of the most nutrient-enriched estuaries in the world.” In the summer of 2022, an algal bloom dubbed the “red-tide” struck the Bay.

High nutrient levels, warm temperatures, and low water flows provided the perfect conditions for the alga heterosigma akashiwo to flourish. This alga depletes oxygen in water, creating fatal conditions for fish and wildlife.

Paul Richards reported that “volunteers counted 400 dead white sturgeon after the red-tide event.” This number only represents a portion of suspected deaths as “sturgeon tend to sink after they die.”

State officials claimed that climate change was the primary cause of the red-tide event. Indeed, 2022 was a dry year, but it was followed by a very wet 2023. Despite the abundant water in 2023, another, though less severe, red-tide event occurred in the Bay.

In a press release responding to the 2023 event, Tom Cannon, an estuarine fisheries ecologist with California Water Impact Network, said, “Unlike 2022, Shasta is now full. The water contractors are getting everything they want and more. Every almond and pomegranate tree in the Central Valley is just sopping with water. There’s enough water for the salmon. Enough for the sturgeon. They’re just not getting it.”

Cannon went on to say that there “were maybe 10,000 sturgeon in the estuary before these events. The total population is certainly a fraction of that now. The Bay’s sturgeon population simply can’t take these kinds of hits and survive. They need more water, and they need it right now.”

How Fishing Fits into the Overall Decline

Insufficient freshwater flows in the Delta and its tributaries have led to low rates of successful white sturgeon reproduction. Algal blooms and poor water quality, especially in the Bay, threaten remaining adult white sturgeon. In these conditions, the white sturgeon population is “highly sensitive to overharvest.”

Commercial fishing of the Bay’s white sturgeon “peaked in 1887, with a haul of more than 1.5 million pounds.” By 1917, the state banned commercial fishing of white sturgeon due to a stark population decline. In 1954, the state permitted recreational fishing of the Bay’s white sturgeon.

Currently, the state permits recreational anglers to catch one fish per day within a specified size range and three fish annually. The petition states that the best available science provides no evidence that these harvest levels are sustainable. The coalition advocates for the state to restrict recreational fishing of the Bay’s white sturgeon to catch and release only.

Chris Shutes, executive director of CSPA, said, “Bad water management is devastating California’s fisheries, and people who fish are left to shoulder far too many of the consequences.” Yet he maintains some hope: “There’s still a chance for sturgeon to be plentiful and rebound.”

And thus, the Endangered Species Acts

To save this ancient fish, the Newsom Administration and relevant state and federal agencies must address excessive freshwater diversions, pollution, algal blooms, and overharvesting. Their failure to take decisive action is why petitioning organizations have turned to state and federal endangered species acts to protect white sturgeon.

Posted in Fisheries, State Board Bay-Delta Standards | Comments Off on California’s White Sturgeon: An Endangered Species within the Foreseeable Future

CSPA is hiring an Administrative Assistant and Advocate Trainee!

The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) is looking for an administrative assistant and advocate trainee. This is a part-time contract position starting at about 20 hours per week. Work will be remote at the contractor’s home. CSPA’s main place of business in is in Berkeley. CSPA, a 40-year-old non-profit organization, is a recognized leader in water policy, protection of fisheries and fishing opportunities, and water quality enforcement in California.

Please see job description and application instructions here.

Make a difference for our waterways! Join the great CSPA team!

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More Delta Flow or Delta Tunnel? One Good Decision Will Stop the Next Bad Decision

On December 8, 2023, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) issued its Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for its Proposed “Delta Conveyance Project” (aka tunnel under the Delta).  In thousands of pages of responses to comments, DWR affirms that its Draft EIR was right on just about everything.

One thing DWR says it was right about is how it didn’t need to analyze an alternative that looked at increasing flow through the Delta.  The reasoning is telling: “Regarding the comment regarding an alternative with increased unimpaired flow, such an alternative was determined to not be consistent with the project purpose nor would it meet most of the stated basic project objectives in Chapter 2, Purpose and Project Objectives.” (FEIR Response to Comments, Table 4-4, p. 354).

Right.  Increased flow through the Delta is not consistent with the project purpose of the Delta tunnel.  CSPA knew that.  It’s good to see DWR fess up.

The Bay-Delta Plan offers the opportunity to restore enough Delta outflow to support restoration of the Delta and its aquatic ecosystem.  On the other side of the flow ledger, the Delta tunnel only works if there’s not enough Delta outflow to support restoration of the Delta.  Equally, Sites Reservoir only works if there’s not enough Delta outflow to support restoration of the Delta.

That’s why CSPA is fighting on all three fronts at once:

  • To support a workable high flow alternative for the update of the Bay-Delta Plan (Speaking to the State Water Board and preparing written comments on the Draft Staff Report/Substitute Environmental Document in Support of Potential Updates to the Water Quality Control Plan for the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary for the Sacramento River and its Tributaries, Delta Eastside Tributaries, and Delta)
  • To respond to DWR’s flawed Final EIR for the Delta tunnel and to prepare for water rights hearings.
  • To respond to the Sites Authority’s flawed Final EIR for Sites Reservoir and to prepare for water rights hearings.

Adequate flows in the Bay-Delta Plan will change the entire calculus of the Delta tunnel and Sites.

But approval of the Delta tunnel and/or Sites will set in concrete arguments against a high flow alternative for the Bay-Delta Plan.

Restoration of the Bay-Delta estuary and California’s largest watershed, or increased overallocation of freshwater flows? That’s the question for California water in the next two years.

Posted in California Delta, Chris Shutes, No Tunnels Campaign, State Board Bay-Delta Standards | Comments Off on More Delta Flow or Delta Tunnel? One Good Decision Will Stop the Next Bad Decision

Nitrate Pollution: One Place Environmental Justice and Environmental Advocacy Meet

In 2021, the Central Coast Regional Water Board (Regional Board) adopted Agricultural Order 4.0. This order contained measures to reduce nitrate pollution in groundwater caused by the agricultural sector. Specifically, Order 4.0 set numeric limits to regulate the amount of chemical nitrate fertilizers growers could use in their fields.

In September 2023, the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) issued Order WQ 2023-0081, which repealed Order 4.0’s numeric limits. At the same time, the State Board upheld Order 4.0’s omission of protections for rivers, streams, and riparian habitats. This decision will have statewide impacts because the State Board asserted that all its decisions on groundwater pollution are “precedential.”

In response, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) joined a lawsuit filed by a diverse coalition of environmental justice and environmental advocacy groups to challenge the State Board’s decision.

The coalition consists of rural Latino community and farmworker groups, recreational and commercial fishing groups, and environmental advocacy groups. In addition to CSPA, the coalition includes the San Jerardo Cooperative, Comité De Salinas, Monterey Coastkeeper, Pacific Coast Federation Of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute For Fisheries Resources, California Coastkeeper, The Otter Project, and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper. This coalition is diverse because the impacts of nitrate pollution on human communities and ecosystems are far-reaching.

Many Central Coast growers use more nitrate than their crops need.  When growers use fertilizers on their crops, nitrate not absorbed by crops can enter groundwater and surface water.

In response to the State Board’s decision, the coalition filed a petition for writ of mandate with the Superior Court. The petition states that “growers currently apply on average 340 more pounds of fertilizer nitrate than their crops take up and that is removed through harvest. In other words, the average grower discharges 340 pounds of nitrate into groundwater per acre, per year.”

High nitrate levels in drinking water cannot be removed by filtration. When people drink water with high nitrate levels, it exposes them to a higher risk of cancer, thyroid disease, vision problems, and skin rashes. When pregnant women and infants drink water with high nitrate levels, it can cause the blood disorder methemoglobinemia, which affects the body’s ability to produce oxygen. This condition can be fatal to fetuses and infants.

The San Jerardo Cooperative provides housing to low-income farmworkers. For almost 30 years, the community of San Jerardo has been “chasing clean water.”  Horacio Amezquita is the community’s general manager. In a 2019 CalMatters commentary, Amezquita wrote, “Since 1990, the people of San Jerardo have drilled one well after another, only to see each closed as a result of agricultural contamination including nitrates and pesticides.”

In 2012 the Regional Board adopted the first Agricultural Order that required growers and landowners to test wells for nitrate pollution. Angela Schroeter of the Regional Board reported that 26% of domestic wells tested were above the safe level for nitrate, and 10% of those were three times higher than the safe level.

The 2012 Order did not include any enforceable measures to reduce pollution. Communities affected were provided with funding for bottled water until new wells were dug. The expense for these new wells was reflected in water rate increases.

The coalition’s petition states that “San Jerardo residents now pay approximately four times as much for water as before the water contamination, even after factoring in assistance provided by state and federal government.”

Since 2012, nitrate pollution in Central Coast groundwater and surface water has become worse. Testing and voluntary measures were not enough to compel growers to reduce the amount of nitrate fertilizer they used on their crops.

In California, and particularly in the Central Coast Region, Latinos and other people of color are less likely than white people to have access to safe drinking water and healthy waterways for fishing and recreation.  In November 2021, the State Board passed a resolution to address policies that have led to this inequity.

In the resolution, the State Board said, “race is strongly correlated with more severe pollution burdens. However, until recently, few of the Water Boards’ policies, programs, or plans expressly considered or addressed racial inequities.”

The State Board’s decision to omit enforceable nitrate limits and protections for streams, rivers, fish, and wildlife is a continuation of this inequity.

The State Board’s failure to effectively regulate the agricultural sector’s pollution of groundwater, rivers, and streams also has far-reaching ecological impacts. A diverse cross-section of California’s population will feel these impacts.

Nitrate pollution in rivers and streams causes an overgrowth of harmful algae, making the water toxic to humans and animals. In a recent interview, Ted Morton of the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper said, “Although finding that surface waters were being contaminated by nitrates and pesticides, the Central Coast Regional Board’s Ag Order 4.0 did not include additional requirements for use of vegetated buffers between the edge of fields and nearby rivers, streams, and creeks that can reduce nitrate and pesticide pollution and provide habitat for wildlife.”

In a press release announcing their lawsuit, the coalition challenged the State Board’s decision to uphold Order 4.0’s lack of “buffers that would protect streams, rivers and wetlands from toxic pesticides while providing critical habitat to Central Coast fisheries, including threatened Steelhead.”

The petition filed by the coalition also contests the State Board’s assertion that no regional board in California has the power to adopt numeric limits to regulate the agricultural sector’s use of nitrate fertilizer. Despite “detailed factual findings in the Regional Board record,” the State Board delayed action pending review by an “expert panel.”  This will impede efforts to reduce nitrate pollution across the state.

Clean rivers, streams, and wetlands are necessary to support fish and wildlife. Clean waterways also help to deliver uncontaminated water essential for human survival. Despite their different perspectives and membership bases, every group in the coalition has reached the same conclusion — nitrate pollution must stop.

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