Protests Against Delta Tunnel Change in Water Diversion Must Be Filed by April 29




By Dan Bacher |

As salmon and Delta fish populations continue to crash due to massive water diversions to corporate agribusiness, the State Water Resources Control Board just issued a public notice regarding the Delta Conveyance Project Change in Point of Diversion (CPOD) Petition that was submitted by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) to the State Water Board on February 22, 2024. 

This notice acknowledges receipt of the change petition and details the process to submit a protest against the petition. 

You can expect a wave of formal protests against the change petition by fishing groups, Tribes, environmental justice organizations, conservation groups and Delta region cities and counties.

Protests against the change petition must be filed by April 29th, 2024, with a copy provided to the petition, according to the Water Board. Details regarding how to submit a protest can be found in the full-length version of the notice available on the State Water Board’s Delta Conveyance Project website at: https://waterboards.ca.gov/bay_delta/delta_conveyance.html.

Questions concerning this notice and non-controversial procedural questions regarding the Board’s proceeding related to this petition may be directed to the Board’s project team at DCP-WR-Petition@waterboards.ca.gov.

For additional information on the CPOD petition, view this Q&A prepared by DWR. 

The Delta Tunnel is considered by Tribes, fishermen, Delta residents, environmental justice advocates to an environmentally destructive boondoggle that would hasten the extinction of Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Sacramento River spring-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and Longfin Smelt, green sturgeon and a host of other imperiled species.

The Delta Tunnel is based on the unscientific and untenable concept that taking more water out of the Sacramento River before it flows through the Delta would somehow help to bolster water supply reliability and restore the ecosystem when it would do neither. I’m not aware of any example in U.S. or world history where a project that takes more water out of a river has helped to restore an ecosystem.

I will post more information regarding this notice as it comes in.

Delta Smelt is functionally extinct in the wild, salmon runs collapse

The notice was issued by the State Water Board as the San Francisco Bay-Delta Ecosystem suffers from its worst-ever ecological crisis.

For the sixth year in a row, no Delta Smelt were collected in the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fall Midwater Trawl (FMWT) Survey in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta from September through December 2023.

Once the most abundant species in the entire estuary, the Delta Smelt has declined to the point that it has become functionally extinct in the wild. The 2 to 3 inch fish, found only in the Delta, is an “indicator species” that shows the relative health of the San Francisco Bay/Delta ecosystem.

“No Delta Smelt were collected at any stations from September through December,” reported Taylor Rohlin, Environmental Scientist for the CDFW Bay Delta Region, in a memo published on Jan. 25. “The 2023 September-December index (0) is tied with 2018-2022 as the lowest index in FMWT history.”

Meanwhile, the other pelagic species collected in the survey — striped bass, Longfin Smelt, Sacramento Splittail and thread fin shad — continued their dramatic decline since 1967 when the State Water Project went into effect. Only the American shad shows a less precipitous decline. The graphs in the CDFW memo graphically illustrate how dramatic the declines in fish populations have been over the years: nrm.dfg.ca.gov/…

Between 1967 and 2020, the state’s Fall Midwater Trawl abundance indices for striped bass, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, American shad, splittail and threadfin shad have declined by 99.7, 100, 99.96, 67.9, 100, and 95%, respectively, according to the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

Salmon fishing season was closed last year on the ocean waters of California and in all of the state’s rivers, due to the low numbers of returning fall-run Chinook salmon in the Sacramento and Klamath Rivers.

Endangered Sacramento River spring and winter-run Chinook continue their march towards extinction. The spawning escapement of Sacramento River Spring Chinooks (SRSC) in 2023 totaled 1,479 fish (jacks and adults), with an estimated return of 106 to upper Sacramento River tributaries and the remaining 1,391 fish returning to the Feather River Hatchery.

The return to Butte Creek of just 100 fish was the lowest ever. In 2021, an estimated 19,773 out of the more than 21,580 fish total that returned to spawn in the Butte County stream perished before spawning

Nor did the winter run, listed under the state and federal Endangered Species Act, do well. Spawner escapement of endangered Sacramento River Winter Chinook (SRWC) in 2023 was estimated to be 2,447 adults and 54 jacks, according to the Review.

A group of us, including the late conservationist and Fish Sniffer magazine publisher Hal Bonslett, successfully pushed the state and federal governments to list the winter run under the state and federal Endangered Species Acts starting in 1990-91 because we were so alarmed that the fish population had crashed to 2,000 fish.

Then in 1992 the run declined to less than 200 fish. Even after Shasta Dam was built, the winter run escapement to the Sacramento River was 117,000 in 1969!

Now we are back to approximately the same low number of winter-run Chinooks that spurred us to push for the listing of the fish as endangered under state and federal law over 30 years ago.

This demonstrates why the Winnemem Wintu Tribe's plan to build a fishway to enable the winter run Chinooks to again spawn in the McCloud River above Shasta Reservoir is so important! For the past two years, the Winnemem and the U.S. and state governments have worked together in a program reintroducing winter Chinooks to their native habitat in the McCloud River above Shasta Reservoir.

Forecasted Sacramento River Chinook salmon number is only 213,622

The forecasted adult Sacramento Valley fall-run Chinook salmon population number is only 213,622, according to page 59 of a presentation to be done in Oregon by the state and federal governments today.

This foreshadows the California salmon information webinar coordinated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on Friday, March1. The presentation power point is available at:https://www.dfw.state.or.us/mrp/salmon/docs/OSIG_Combined_Presentations_2024.pdf

The original 2023 projection for Sacramento River fall Chinook, the most predominant stock harvested in California's fisheries, was estimated at 169,767 adults, one of the lowest forecasts since 2008 when the current assessment method began.

The 213,622 number is surprisingly low, considering that all ocean recreational and commercial salmon fishing in the ocean and all recreational salmon fishing in California rivers was closed last year. Imagine how low the 2024 projection would be if the recreational and commercial fishermen hadn't pressured the federal and state governments to close salmon fishing in 2023!

“The salmon population would have been much higher if 2024's salmon hadn't been hit by hot water from dams that likely killed millions of incubating salmon eggs in the upper Sacramento Valley in 2021 and inadequate reservoir releases to safely deliver the juvenile survivors to the ocean in the spring of 2022,” according to the Golden State Salmon Association (GSSA).



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