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Fishing fleet sues feds—says water exports hurt salmon
by Dan Bacher
Thursday May 3rd, 2012 10:52 AM
“For decades Reclamation has gone around Congress and the law,” declared Zeke Grader, PCFFA Executive Director. “Reclamation has blessed the destruction of the Bay Delta estuary, while sanctioning excessive water exports under 'interim water service contracts.'”

Photo of Sacramento River chinook salmon jumping through waterfall courtesy of:
Fishing fleet sues feds—says water exports hurt salmon

San Francisco, May 3 - Commercial fishermen say they have had "enough" and they are taking the federal government to court.

"The issue is the decades old practice of rolling over excessive so-called ‘interim water’ contracts—mostly with large Central Valley irrigators—without following the law," according to a news release from two commercial fishing organizations.

The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) and the Crab Boat Owners Association (CBOA) filed suit Monday in the Northern Federal District Court of California, challenging the United States Bureau of Reclamation practice of promising excessive amounts of water to contractors regardless of the water year or impacts on valuable fish stocks or the environment.

Reclamation is breaking the law, the fishing organizations say, by taking far too much water from the Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta - San Francisco Bay Estuary and by failing to consider impacts on wild fish nurseries in the estuary and upstream river valleys. These water contract renewals should be stopped until proper environmental review is completed.

“For decades Reclamation has gone around Congress and the law,” declared Zeke Grader, PCFFA Executive Director. “Reclamation has blessed the destruction of the Bay Delta estuary, while sanctioning excessive water exports under 'interim water service contracts.'”

In 1992, Congress directed Reclamation not to issue long term water contracts without pricing reforms and full environmental review of the impacts of importing this irrigation water along with the impacts to the communities, and river habitat where the water is taken.

Instead Reclamation has adopted contract language that it “will renew” these interim contracts, conducting environmental review which overlooks the impacts of taking this water from river regions and then delivering it to the toxic lands on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

“Continually extending existing water exports treats these badlands irrigators like sacred cows,” explained Larry Collins, President of the S.F. Crab Boat Owners Association. “Exorbitant amounts of water are being exported to benefit large corporate irrigators at the expense of the
entire west coast fishing industry," he said.

"Cotton & almond growers get their cheap water. Meanwhile fishing, especially salmon, suffers. Jobs are lost. There are fewer salmon for us, and for our visitors. And the quality of life along the Delta and rivers degrades," he stated.

The fishing fleet challenges Reclamation’s practice of issuing ‘Findings of No Significant Impacts’ on supposed ‘temporary” or interim water renewal contracts that have been extended for more than 20 years. This practice effectively allows extreme water export levels while ignoring the impacts of those diversions on the Delta Estuary and source water.

The suit explains how exorbitant water diversions have brought 17 species of fish native to the Delta to extinction and how only 12 indigenous species now survive. Habitat for Sacramento River winter-run and spring-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, green sturgeon, and the Delta smelt has worsened progressively over the last several years from excessive Delta water exports by Reclamation’s Central Valley Project and the State Water Project. Those exports decrease freshwater outflows to San Francisco Bay and increase salinity and the concentration of herbicides, pesticides and toxic agricultural runoff, in the estuary.

“Based on outdated water needs assessments and assuming that the current excessive water exports at present quantities and prices will have “no effect on the environment”, Reclamation’s environmental assessment process is nothing more than a charade,” stated Stephan Volker, the attorney representing the groups.

PCFFA is an umbrella organization of associations representing working men and women in the West Coast commercial fishing fleet. Crab Boat Owners Association represents commercial fishing vessel owners and crew in the greater San Francisco Bay Area engaged in crab, salmon, rockfish, herring and a variety of other fisheries.

Contact Information:
Zeke Grader (415) 561-5080
Larry Collins: (415) 585 5711
Stephen Volker (510) 496-0600

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