Drought legislation could threaten the very existence of salmon and other fish species

  • Published on December 13th, 2015

By Dan Bacher

Urge Senator Boxer To Protect SF Bay-Delta From HR 2898   

HR 2898, an agribusiness-backed “drought relief” bill that would strip environmental Drought in Africaprotections for Central Valley salmon and steelhead and Delta smelt, is back for the third time, according to   Restore the Delta (RTD).

Senator Dianne Feinstein appears ready to sign off on HR 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015, after negotiations with San Joaquin Valley House Congressmen who want to over pump the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary, the group said in an action alert Friday.

“Californians have not seen the federal drought bill,” said RTD. “We need to make sure it does not harm our Delta estuary, which is on the verge of collapse in this extreme drought. Senator Barbara Boxer says she will NOT sign off on any bill that weaken existing federal protections.”

RTD urges people to call Senator Boxer ASAP at (202) 224-3553.

Tell this to Senator Boxer: “Senator Boxer, you promised us an open and transparent process in drought bill (HR 2898) negotiations. Northern Californians haven’t seen the drought bill, now in it’s final stages, and we haven’t been given the opportunity to comment on it yet. It’s our region that will take the environmental and economic impact of this bill. Please slow down the bill process, do not allow passage of this drought bill that has not been vetted in the light of day. We have a right to know how HR 2898 will impact the estuary, the fisheries, our farms, our home, and the source of our livelihood — fresh water flows.”

On December 11, Senator Dianne Feinstein released this statement that shows her apparent willingness to sign off on the bill.

“The bill that Republicans tried to place in the omnibus last week—in my name and without my knowledge—hadn’t been reviewed by me, Senator Boxer, the state or the White House. Each of those parties is key to coming up with a bill that can actually be signed into law.

“There were at least a half-dozen items in the bill that I had rejected and that would have drawn objections from state or federal agencies—some of them would likely violate environmental law. Several more provisions were still being negotiated and hadn’t been reviewed by state or federal stakeholders.

“We’ve worked hard all week to resolve these outstanding provisions, and I believe we’ve come to closure on virtually all of them. I expect that by early next week we’ll have a bill that the state and federal government can sign off on. At that point I plan to present the bill to Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Cantwell and discuss the best way to move the bill forward through regular order.”

In response, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta, issued the following statement:

“Senators Feinstein and Boxer promised the people of California a drought bill that would be transparent. They promised us no secret negotiations. Senator Feinstein is assuring the public that she has worked out a good compromise with Valley Republican Congressional leaders who are seeking more and more exported water from the Bay-Delta estuary during this extreme drought.

However, we, the public, have not seen what has been negotiated. Senator Feinstein and Senator Boxer need to keep their word. The Bay-Delta estuary is on the verge of complete collapse as a result of over pumping as we enter the fifth year of drought. The people who live here will be greatly impacted with environmental and economic impacts it the estuary collapses. We have a right to know how this legislation will impact the estuary, the fisheries, our farms, our home, and the source of our livelihood — fresh water flows.”

An editorial in the San Jose Mercury News on December 2, “Drought relief held hostage to trashing the Delta,” slammed HR 2898.

The San Jose Mercury News wrote, “Central Valley Republicans want to strip out essential environmental protections for the Delta to quench Big Ag’s thirst for more water for questionable orchard crops such as almonds and pistachios.” (http://www.mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_29192771/mercury-news-editorial-drought-relief-held-hostage-trashing)

While Governor Jerry Brown has mandated that California urban users slash their water use by 25 percent, agribusiness has actually planted 150,000 NEW acres of almond trees during the drought. Meanwhile, the Governor has promoted the expansion of fracking in California, which uses water from the federal and state projects. In turn, the fracking wastewater has been documented to contaminate drinking water and irrigation water supplies in Kern County and elsewhere.

The Brown administration has also allowed the privatization of water during the drought by Nestle, Crystal Geyser, Walmart and other water bottling companies, who drain water from aquifers and rivers to sell back to the public in plastic bottles at an enormous profit.

In July of this year, Barrigan-Parrilla pointed out the threat posed by H.R. 2898 (Valadao), a bill that she said “would maximize water exports from the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary and further weaken regulations for endangered fish species.”

“Today, Delta communities face invasive plant species and toxic algal blooms as a result of inadequate flow,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “HR 2898 does nothing to help with drought relief for 55 of California’s 58 counties. It does nothing but shift public health and wealth to private hands through water transfers. HR 2898 is not in the interest of taxpayers and the general public, it is the same old water grab for industrial mega-growers.”

Valadao’s original bill would have repealed San Joaquin River restoration, replacing it with a smaller program. It would add hatchery raised salmon or Delta smelt to be included in counts of Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta fish populations under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Finally, it directed the sale of the New Melones Dam on the Stanislaus River to local water districts/

But until the actual language is released to the public, it is hard to comment on the latest version of the legislation.

Section 202 of SB 1894 would mandate killing of non-native fish!

Fishing groups are opposing an alarming provision in Feinstein’s SB 1894, the California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2015. It is not known at this time whether or not this provision is included in the amended bill.

“Included in the bill is an alarming mandate that requires the eradication of the so-called ‘invasive’ striped bass, largemouth, smallmouth, crappie and catfish from the Sacramento Delta,” said Mike Everts, recreational angler. “This provision, if enacted, would also drastically affect the already dramatically declining numbers of striped bass in the San Francisco Bay.”

“This requirement to eradicate striped bass, largemouth, smallmouth, crappie from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in SB 1894, section 202, MUST be removed,” he stated.

These species are being made the scapegoats for the demise of Central Valley salmon and Delta smelt when in fact the state and federal export pumping facilities in the South Delta pumps are the largest non-discriminate predator in the estuary, according to Everts.

Everts is urging everybody concerned about the fisheries of the S.F.Bay-Delta Estuary to sign the petition posted on www.change.org by Bobby Barrack, fishing guide, and join the fight HERE: www.change.org/…

“Purposely hidden in section 202 of the 147 page bill is the mandate for the eradication of ‘non native species’  in the delta and its tributaries to include largemouth, smallmouth, striped bass, crappie and catfish,” said Barrack. “The inclusion of these species in this bill MUST be removed. They are being made the scapegoats for the demise of the salmon and Delta Smelt when in fact the pumps are the largest non discriminate predator in the Delta.”

“This eradication mandate will decimate the natural balance that has existed for 140 years, while doing NOTHING for the drought which is what the bill is supposed to address. It will sterilize sport fishing on the California Delta, as well as adversely affect many businesses that rely on income directly generated from Delta fishing, i.e., bait and tackle stores, hotels, restaurants, tackle manufacturers etc.”

About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.