Volume 6, Issue 9
Ineffective policy worsens drought
For years, regulators have taken away water from residents, farms and businesses in an attempt to protect endangered delta smelt and salmon. While the water losses to people (especially farmers and farm workers) have been real and detrimental, the benefits of this water to the fish populations have been murky, at best.
In fact, as more water has been diverted to protect fish, delta smelt populations have continued to decline.
The latest Fall Midwater Trawl survey, conducted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, found only nine adult smelt – the smallest total ever. As populations continue to decline, the prospects of the adult males and females finding each other to breed and perpetuate the species is greatly reduced.
UC Davis fish biologist Peter Moyle recently told the Delta Stewardship Council, “Prepare for the extinction of the delta smelt in the wild.” On the California Water Blog, Moyle expanded, stating, “delta smelt appear to approaching the point of no return, with extinction in the wild possible in the next year or two.”
This winter, in the midst of the worst drought in modern California history, nearly 477,000 acre-feet of water was diverted under the Endangered Species Act: that’s enough to provide 1.9 million people with water for a year or to irrigate up to 240,000 acres of the farmland that famers will likely fallow this year due to lack of water. Since 2010, more than 2.9 million acre-feet have been diverted for delta smelt and salmon protection.
Yet, there is little evidence that these diversions for enhanced flows in the Delta are beneficial to endangered fish species. According to the Delta Independent Science Board, “the state of science on fishes and flows in the Delta is inadequate to make reliable predictions of how water management affects different species of fishes because the underlying processes that connect changes in habitat conditions to fishes are in adequately understood.”
We need solutions that protect California’s environment and our water supplies. Increased water diversions don’t appear to be solving the problem and are clearly reducing water availability for human use. The state must invest in habitat restoration, new water storage and conveyance, and address predation by non-native species to protect California’s native fish and water users, residents and businesses.