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Some Can't See the Forest for the Trees

Some people are beginning to see that there are many problems in the Delta, but others refuse

Mar 11, 2011


Families Protecting The Valley Newsletter Tell Your Friends about Families Protecting The Valley

MARCH 11 2001

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Denis Prosperi
Chester Andrew
Bob Smittcamp
Russ Waymire
John "Dusty" Giacone
Joe Marchini
Mark Watte
Kole Upton
Piedad Ayala
Tom Barcellos
Jim Walls

Some Can't See the Forest for the Trees

Some environmentalists are so intent and focused on the pumping situation in the Delta that they can't see the other problems right before their eyes.  Take the article below (The Dead Fish Plan) in the San Francisco Bay Guardian in which it is postulated that Delta pumping is the only reason for the decline in endangered fish populations.  This is stated while they are also writing about one other stressor and ignoring another. 

Let us quote from the article:  "But CALFED - the joint federal/state effort - failed to restore fish populations."  The author is referring to the fact that CALFED reduced pumping yet endangered fish populations continued to decline (fish populations were supposed to double by 2002).  We could conclude from this that pumping wasn't the problem, but that's not what the writer does.  He concludes that the pumps are fish-killers.  For almost 20-years there has been an effort to reduce pumping to restore fish populations, but it hasn't worked.  Einstein's definition of insanity:  doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.   

The writer also talks of 'salvaged' fish, those that are saved from the pumps and "placed in tanker trucks and transported from the pumping facilities and dumped back into designated locations in the Delta, where eagerly awaiting predators have a daily feeding frenzy."  Here we have 'salvaged' fish, still alive and taken to a place where they are eaten by striped bass, but does the author see any problem with the striped bass?  No.  Again, the pumps are the killer.

The constant focus on the pumps as the problem has not solved the problem.  Thankfully, in the past few months headway has been made with other stressors and we may finally start solving the problems.  The decision by the Water Quality Control Board in December to force the Sacramento Wastewater Treatment facility to upgrade to tertiary treatment will clean up the ammonia in the Delta.  The lawsuit by the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta to force the Department of Fish and Game to change their limit rules on striped bass will also help.  

Some people are beginning to see that there are many problems in the Delta, but others refuse to see the forest for the trees. 

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The Dead Fish Plan 

Why the latest proposals to save the delta aren't going to work
Going, gone: CALFED did nothing to help the delta smelt

The recently formed Delta Stewardship Council, charged with protecting the San Francisco-San Joaquin Delta Estuary, released a draft report in February with more bad news about the possible fate of aquatic species.

A number of the fish, which have been the focus of national attention, are already listed as threatened or endangered under the provision of the Endangered Species Act.

This preliminary finding comes after more than $10 billion has been expended over the course of a decade by federal and state officials — who have insisted that their plans would not only restore estuary fisheries but would double the populations of endangered species such as salmon.

But CALFED — the joint federal/state effort — failed to restore fish populations, and now the state says some species may never recover. So it's hard to have a lot of confidence in the new agency.

The draft report was released by DSC's executive officer, Joe Grindstaff, former director of CALFED's Bay-Delta program. At one point, in 2007, Grindstaff acknowledged: "Fundamentally, the system we designed didn't work."

That's an understatement. Tens of millions of fish have been killed by government-operated projects pumping and exporting water from the delta. More than 50 million fish were considered "salvaged" — saved from the pumps — but millions of them also wound up dead. And there are tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, more that are unaccounted for.

Ironically, this unfathomable loss occurred while officials were engaged in several failed fish-doubling plans that spanned decades, cost the public billions of dollars in borrowed money, and contributed the California's deficit-ridden budget crisis.

And now there's a new plan, crafted by the same people who bungled the last one. It's projected to cost as much as $80 billion and take another 90 years to complete.

According to the draft plan, "the funding needed ... is large. Capital expenditures required for the delta in the next 10 to 15 years could range from $12 billion to $24 billion, with a high estimate of $80 billion. The annual operating costs of the ... council are unknown."

We've been here before. Critics argued from the inception of CALFED that it was doomed to fail because, like the new council, it was composed of many of the same agencies that caused the estuary to become imperiled. And it has, in fact, failed. When I called to find out its status, Eric Alvarez, a spokesperson for the new delta council, responded that CALFED "no longer exists in the conventional sense. It does not have a staff or a location."

The first draft report of the new council provides some key preliminary findings, all of which ignore the essence of the problem.

First, it states that "California's total water supply is oversubscribed. California regularly uses more water annually than is provided by nature." It's true that California's water resources are oversubscribed — but that's the result of the government's failure to prudently appropriate the water we have.
Next it says, "California's water supply is increasingly volatile" — a fact that has been made worse by mismanagement.

"Even with substantial ecosystem restoration efforts, some native species may not survive," it adds, noting that "there is no comprehensive state or regional emergency response plan for the delta." It doesn't mention that state officials have had 50 years to come up with such a plan, and have consistently failed.

"Even with substantial restoration efforts, some native species may not survive," the plan states. "Expert opinion suggests that some stressors are beyond our control and the system may have already changed so much that some species are living on the edge.... In addition, habitat conditions for some species may get worse before they improve."

That's an astonishing admission coming, in effect, from the same government agencies that once promised they would double fish populations by the year 2002.
The fact is that anadromous fish and other pelagic species populations, which depend on the delta estuary, have reached alarming all-time lows.

How did the salmonid and other endangered species reach what may be the point of no return? It's simple — the delta pumps that send water south to irrigate arid land, as approved by CALFED, are by their very nature fish- killers.

According to data from the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), from 1984 through 2006 an estimated 22 million fish were killed at the State Water Project's Delta pumping facilities alone. That works out to an annual average of nearly 1 million fish killed as a result of SWP's water exports from the delta.

And that's just one pump. The federal Central Valley Project, which also sucks up delta water, provides estimates of federally-listed Chinook salmon and steelhead loss, as well as estimates for salvage rates of delta smelt, Sacramento splittail, and longfin smelt.

Data obtained from government sources indicate that from the period of 1980 through 2002, 54 million fish were salvaged from the SWP Skinner Fish Facility and the federal project's Tracy Fish Facility. That averages out to 2.4 million salvaged fish, or five per minute, 365 days per year.

What happens to the salvaged fish? Nobody knows for sure. The DFG recently disclosed that it has never conducted a quantitative analysis or study on the topic.

The numbers would not be good. The salvaged fish are placed in tanker trucks and transported from the pumping facilities and dumped back into designated locations in the delta, where eagerly awaiting predators have a daily feeding frenzy. According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife 2008 report, "salvaged" Delta smelt, which in some years ranged as high as 5 million, are typically written off as dead.

Ironically, in all that time the responsible officials have yet to be held legally accountable for even one dead fish. 


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