The drought may be harming both humans and wildlife, but extinction is forever. Several fish species—including a major run of salmon–in the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary are at imminent risk of extinction, even as state and federal agencies have petitioned for more water to be sent from the Delta to agricultural and municipal water users.
Delta outflow standards exist to ensure that all of the fresh water doesn’t get pumped out of the Bay-Delta Estuary for human use alone, thereby protecting fish and wildlife that depend on the Bay and Delta. Yet, according to many Central Valley residents and legislators, these environmental standards create an onerous and unnecessary impact to their water supply. As California’s water supply dwindles with the ongoing drought, the demand grows louder to divert every last drop of fresh water that reaches our Bay.
At a recent State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) meeting, Central Valley residents arrived wearing t-shirts that read, “Water for People, NOT for Fish!” They were petitioning the State Board to permit a relaxation of Delta outflow standards and simultaneous higher Delta pumping levels than dry-year regulations usually allow. Yet winter-run and spring-run Chinook salmon, Delta smelt, steelhead trout, and potentially longfin smelt—all endangered species—are all at the critical juncture in their life cycles that puts them at increased risk of getting killed by the Delta pumps.
The State Board responded to the water users’ petition with a revised order that attempts to balance the need to preserve critical reservoir storage with the need to provide water supply and protect endangered fish species and the health of the Bay-Delta Estuary. It remains to be seen whether this attempt will be successful: last year’s similar attempts at a balanced allocation of water led to lethally warm in-stream temperatures that resulted in a 95% loss of the brood year of winter-run Chinook salmon.
As the San Jose Mercury News recently stated in an editorial (“Delta’s health should take priority over pumping”), “California needs to get serious about protecting the health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, one of Silicon Valley’s most valuable water sources. The short-term needs of Central Valley farmers are significant. But they pale in comparison with preserving the long-term water quality of the estuary that provides water for two-thirds of the state’s residents.”
The State Board will determine in March how much water should be pumped from the Delta in the coming months. They need to hear that extinction is not an acceptable outcome of water allocation decisions during the drought!
Darcie Luce is a Water Policy Specialist for Friends of the San Francisco Estuary’s Freshwater Flows Program.
Write to the State Water Board today requesting that they:
- Reverse their decision to suspend the D-1641 March requirements for inflows to San Francisco Bay and ensure that these flows critical to the continued existence of Delta smelt, winter-run Chinook salmon, and other species are actually provided for the rest of March and on through the ecologically important spring period.
- Reverse their decision to partly suspend the D-1641 limits on export pumping, in order to prevent devastating impacts on the last remaining Delta smelt and winter-run salmon.
- Reject any new petitions to suspend the flow requirements and export limits for April and May 2015, and give the endangered species of the Bay-Delta estuary their last, best chance for survival.
Your email does not need to be very long, but feel free to personalize it to let the Board members know why you care about protecting the fish and wildlife of the San Francisco Estuary.
Send your email to: