Delta Tunnels: DFW issues permit to kill endangered salmon & smelt

  • Published on August 1st, 2017

The deal made between the Jerry Brown and Donald Trump administrations to fast-track the construction of the Governor’s Delta Tunnels project, a deal that I predicted on election night 2016, is becoming more apparent nearly every day.

By Dan Bacher salmon

On July 28, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, under the helm of Director Chuck Bonham, issued an “incidental take permit” for the construction and operation of California Delta Tunnels/ WaterFix in “compliance” with Section 2081(b) of the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).

This permit allows the project to kill state-listed species, including Sacramento River spring- and winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt and other fish species, in the construction and operation of the two massive 35 mile long Delta Tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

“Issuance of this permit represents another significant milestone in the WaterFix planning process,” according to the announcement about the permit on the California WaterFix website. “As described in the permit application, WaterFix will implement measures for construction and operation of the project to fully mitigate the impacts of any incidental take of state-listed species, and will provide additional protection through real-time operation of the facilities in a manner that avoids and minimizes incidental take.”

Representatives of fishing, conservation and environmental justice groups were reviewing the over-200 page document at this time.

“A number of the staff and attorneys of various organizations are examining the documents for the possibility of California's $15+ billion waterstealing "WaterFix" boondogglelitigation,” said Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA).

A number of issues with the incidental take permit and related documents are apparent after a quick look at the permit.

First, the operations plan in the permit and the EIR/EIS recently released by the Brown administration are different from those proposed in the petition for water rights by the Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Water Resources to change the points of diversion for the Central Valley Water Project and State Water Project. They are also different from the “no jeopardy” biological opinions released by the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Second, there is no signed and committed adaptive management plan in the incidental take permit, nor is there a financial plan.

Third, the federal biological opinions that approved the construction of the Delta Tunnels project need to be followed by a subsequent biological opinion so the tunnels could be connected to the Sacramento River.

On June 29, four fishing and environmental groups filed two lawsuits challenging the Trump administration’s biological opinions permitting the construction of the controversial Delta Tunnels.  The lawsuits said the biological opinions are “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion.”

Public trust advocates say the California Delta Tunnels/ WaterFix project would not only hasten the extinction of Central Valley steelhead, winter and spring-run Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species, but would also imperil the salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers that have been an integral part of the culture, religion and livelihood of the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Valley Tribes for over thousands of years.

The complete permit is available at:…

As more information becomes available, I will post it on this blog.

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.