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State Board Adopts Flow Standards for Bay-Delta
by Dan Bacher
Tuesday Aug 3rd, 2010 5:33 PM
"The board just put the stake through the heart of the co-equal goals of restoration and water supply, as defined by increased exports out of the Delta," said Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.
"The board just put the stake through the heart of the co-equal goals of restoration and water supply, as defined by increased exports out of the Delta," said Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

State Board Adopts Flow Standards for Bay-Delta

by Dan Bacher

(Sacramento) The State Water Resources Control Board, in a unanimous vote on August 3, approved a science-based report identifying the amount of water needed to keep fish, wildlife and ecosystems alive in the imperiled Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The board adopted the final document, with a few minor changes and improvements including those suggested by fishing and environmental groups, after testimony by dozens of fishermen, environmentalists, farmers and Delta residents.

"The board just put the stake through the heart of the co-equal goals of restoration and water supply, as defined by increased exports out of the Delta," said Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. "The document says that to restore the Delta, you need to increase Delta flows."

"It's not what some of us expected when we started this process in 1986, but we welcome the adoption of this document after 24 years," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "This report does two major things: it recognizes that flows are essential for the restoration of the Delta and it recognizes that the estuary needs more flows than it is getting now."

"Flows are not the only thing required to bring back the estuary, but they are the building block to restoring the estuary and its fish populations," emphasized Grader.

The report, released in late July by board staff, calls for more water to be left in the Delta instead of diverting it through the giant state and federal pumps to corporate agribusiness on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and southern California cities, according to Grader.

The report recommends that around 75 percent of the precipitation in the Delta watershed should be allowed to flow unimpeded to San Francisco Bay. The report's findings mirror calls for more water made by fish biologists, other scientists, and state and federal wildlife officials who have studied the problem.

Grader said the staff report also supports the findings of two federal fishery plans (biological opinions) that call for more water to prevent the extinction of federally protected fish species, including Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River winter and spring run chinook salmon, Delta smelt and green sturgeon. The opinions also bolster a fall-run chinook salmon population that drives West Coast salmon fisheries.

The report comes as fishermen face a third year of closed or heavily-restricted salmon seasons due to the collapse of the once-mighty Sacramento River fall chinook salmon run, a commercially valuable species heavily dependent on a healthy Delta flows to allow the survival of migrating baby salmon.

"It's good to see state water officials finally recognizing that it's in the state's interest to allow water to flow west through the estuary because of all the jobs related to the salmon fishing industry, both commercial and recreational, that depend on rebuilding our salmon runs," added Grader.

Grader emphasized that the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta/San Francisco Bay estuary is the most important estuary on the West Coast of the Americas and is considered California's single most important ecosystem. "Diversions of more than 50 percent of the estuary's freshwater inflow during much of the past decade have decimated the ecosystem and left many of its fisheries and the industries they support teetering on extinction," he stated.

Corporate agribusiness interests opposed the adoption of the flow report, but many appeared resigned to its approval by the board.

Thomas Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District, urged board members not to approve the report, calling the document "immaterial."

A large group of Delta fishermen, farmers and residents and environmentalists showed up to support the flow standards. "I urge you to stand by this report regardless of the pressure that you get from the southern part of the state," said Clarksburg resident Karen Medders.

"I have watched over the past 25 years the decline of the Delta before my very eyes," said Roger Mammon, Restore the Delta board member, urging the board to adopt the document. "The decline of the estuary all started with the export of water."

The flow standard report was mandated under the controversial water policy/water bond package that passed through the State Legislature last November.

The report's recommendations are the first to ever clearly identify the amount of water needed to keep the West Coast's largest and most significant estuary healthy. "We went through 8 drafts, not just one draft, to come up with this report," emphasized water board member Art Baggett. "We also finished the document one week before the statuatory deadline."

Baggett noted that the report was not conducted under the same processes that guide water rights hearings, so it didn't involve cross examination by lawyers or testimony under oath. "We took the best available science. It's like a term paper," he quipped.

Fishing group representatives said the report could be used to inform various state processes with the potential to "greatly improve" the way the state manages water in the Delta. Grader said it has great potential to help rebuild the Sacramento River's once massive chinook salmon population, which supports thousands of fishing jobs and fishing families throughout California and Oregon.

"Sport fishermen and businesses are really glad that the state adopted a science-based approach and approved this report," said Dick Pool, administrator for Water4Fish, a fishing-based organization with over 78,000 supporters. "We've seen what happens when we don't follow science in the Delta: collapsing fish populations and the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity from fishing.

"Our state economy has lost 23,000 salmon-related jobs already. It's time to bring our fishing jobs back," Pool concluded.

The report was issued at a time when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator Dianne Feinstein and corporate agribusiness are pushing for the construction of a peripheral canal to divert Sacramento River water around the Delta and new dams. The peripheral canal would facilitate increased water exports to southern California water districts and west side San Joaquin Valley growers.

The canal would cost $23 billion to $53.8 billion at time when California is in its greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Fishery advocates believe that its construction would lead to the extinction of imperiled Central Valley salmon and steelhead, Delta smelt, green sturgeon and southern resident killer whales.

The $11.14 billion Water Bond, Proposition 18, would help fund the infrastructure for the peripheral canal and the construction of new dams. The bond includes $3 billion for new dams, the most expensive, environmentally destructive, and least productive sources of new water supply, according to Clean Water Action. It also provides $1.5 billion in funding that will ultimately support a peripheral canal.

For more information on the No on 18 campaign, go to: http://www.nowaterbond.com
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We are Sooo ScrewedSludgeTuesday Aug 3rd, 2010 8:28 PM
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