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Peripheral tunnels could increase fish kills from water exports
by Dan Bacher
Thursday Mar 7th, 2013 3:45 PM
“The history of the Delta tells us that past agency assurances that projects to divert water from the estuary would be beneficial or benign were grievously wrong: virtually all of them exacerbated conditions to the point where Delta fisheries are on life support," said Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA).

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Peripheral tunnels could increase fish kills from water exports

by Dan Bacher

Millions of fish would continue to be killed if the Peripheral Tunnels proposed by the Brown administration were built, according to a groundbreaking new white paper released by the California Sportfishing Alliance (CSPA) and Restore the Delta (RTD) on Thursday, March 7.

The paper also dispelled the notion promulgated by the state and federal governments that the problem of massive fish kills would be solved by installing some some "magic" new fish screens on the proposed North Delta Intakes.

“Proponents of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and its peripheral tunnels suggest that only by diverting water from the Sacramento River can the Delta be restored because of immense fishery losses at the South Delta export pumps," said CSPA Executive Director Bill Jennings, who wrote the white paper. "This is simply incorrect! Fish losses could even increase with the addition of a North Delta diversion point.”

Jennings began the white paper, using extensive references to state and federal government data, emphasizing how lethal water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta are to Central Valley chinook salmon, steelhead, Delta smelt, striped bass, threadfin shad and other fish species.

"Between 2000 and 2011, more than 130 million fish have been 'salvaged' at the State and Federal Project water export facilities in the South Delta," according to the report. "Actual losses are far higher. For example, recent estimates indicate that 5-10 times more fish are lost than are salvaged, largely due to the high predation losses in and around water project facilities.”

Additionally, the fish screens are unable to physically screen eggs and larval life stages of the fish from diversion pumps. “The losses of eggs and larval stages of fish, as well as the enormous losses of zooplankton and phytoplankton the comprise the base of the aquatic food chain, go publicallly unacknowledged and uncounted,” the report said.

Diversions from the South Delta will remain essential under the proposed conveyance facilities.

“Exports from the South Delta pumps will remain a significant percentage of total water exports,” the report noted. “BDCP currently estimates that 50% of State and Federal Project exports would come from the existing South Delta diversion facilities in average water years and as much as 75-84% in dry and critical water years.”

“In fact, BDCP modeling suggests that exports and fish entrainment from South Delta diversions could potentially increase in certain water year types and for critical life stages of certain species. The BDCP itself estimates the project could increase the killing of steelhead, Winter and Fall-run Chinook salmon, Longfin smelt and Sacramento splittail,” the white paper said.

The report noted that the South Delta export fish screens are ineffective and obsolete – and new South Delta fish screens are both needed and feasible.

“The present South Delta fish screens are based upon 1950s technology, and massive fish losses have been documented for more than 30 years,” stated Jennings. “Only about 11-18% of salmon or steelhead entrained in Clifton Court Forebay survive.”

Finally, the report said proposed fish screens on the Sacramento River are problematic, using unproven technology.

“Contrary to assurances of BDCP proponents, it is uncertain whether the fish screens for the proposed new North Delta diversion will actually work,” the report said. “ The proposed screens are experimental and have never been employed anywhere else. Some 22 studies are required to determine if the proposed screen design concept will work, will be protective, or if the screens can be legally permitted.”

“Half of these studies are proposed post-construction. Waiting until after construction and the expenditure of billions of dollars to see if these experimental new concept fish screens will work makes no sense. Construction of North Delta diversions should not be initiated until it can be established that the proposed experimental fish screens are feasible, protective and legally permittable pursuant to the Endangered Species Act,” the report stated.

Jennings concluded, “The history of the Delta tells us that past agency assurances that projects to divert water from the estuary would be beneficial or benign were grievously wrong: virtually all of them exacerbated conditions to the point where Delta fisheries are on life support. The harsh reality is that no estuary in the world has survived the diversion of more than half its water flow and the extreme modification of its hydrograph (i.e., peak flows shifted from winter to summer). Speculative promises of mitigation and accountability can no longer be sufficient to justify the construction of major water projects.”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of RTD, said, ““The Peripheral Tunnels could increase, not decrease, the massive fish kills from water exports. For decades, they have failed to provide effective fish screens at the existing pumps.”

“Why would anyone believe that new, untested fish screens at a second diversion point will be any better? The Peripheral Tunnels are the death knell for our salmon fisheries, and deny San Francisco Bay of the freshwater flows to sustain Pacific fisheries,” she said.

The Brown administration continues to push the peripheral tunnel plan as the solution to achieving the “co-equal goals” of ecosystem restoration and water supply. However, Jennings said that regardless of what happens with BDCP, the state and federal governments and water contractors must agree to update these obsolete fish screens in the Delta.

“There shouldn't be any construction of North Delta facilities until the state and federal governments know that the screens meet certain standards,” said Jennings. “If they can conjure up magic and build protective fish screens in the North Delta, they need to show us how. We can no longer rely on their promises of accountability, given their history."

I haven’t received a reply yet from the California Department of Wildlife regarding their response to the white paper.

The complete White Paper, “BDCP and Fish Population Losses at the Pumps,” is posted to RTD’s web site:

For more information about the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, go to:

The release of the white paper takes place as Governor Jerry Brown and Natural Resources Secretary John Laird continue and expand many of the most environmentally destructive policies of the Schwarzenegger administration. Besides fast-tracking the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the fish-killing peripheral tunnels, they presided over record water exports to corporate agribusiness and Southern California in 2011 and authorized a record "salvage" of 9 million Sacramento splittail and over 2 million other fish including Central Valley salmon, steelhead, striped bass and threadfin shad the same year. (

Their list of environmental "accomplishments" includes overseeing the decline of Delta smelt and five other fish species in 2012, presiding over the annual stranding of endangered coho salmon on the Scott and Shasta rivers, clear cutting forests in the Sierra Nevada, and embracing the corruption and conflicts of interests that infest California environmental processes and government bodies ranging from the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to the regional water boards.
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Does Anything Really Change?BeelineThursday Mar 7th, 2013 10:13 PM