salmon, © USFWS

Not Enough Water for Wildlife in New Drought Bill

Proposed legislation places salmon and other drought-impacted wildlife in even more danger

Chinook salmon are incredible creatures. After spending almost three years at sea, they make their way back to the rivers in which they hatched to spawn the next generation. In California each year, Chinook salmon swim beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and into the San Francisco Bay, making their way towards their spawning grounds on the Sacramento River.

Over the past few years, however, the salmon made this perilous journey inland only to have the next generation killed because the river wasn’t managed properly. Indeed, weakening of environmental protections over the last two years has killed 95 to 98 percent of the endangered winter-run Chinook salmon population in the Sacramento River. If this third year is managed so that there are similar impacts, the wild population of the winter-run will be likely wiped out for good.

Salmon aren’t the only animals that have suffered from drought and the relaxation of environmental standards in the San Francisco Bay-Delta. Endangered southern resident orcas rely on Chinook salmon for over 80 percent of their diet. So, when salmon populations crash, the whales also suffer.

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orca and calf, © NOAA

With winter-run Chinook salmon hanging on by a thread, any proposed legislation in Congress must result in water solutions that help salmon and the other declining fish and wildlife species instead of making it even more difficult for these species to survive. On January 21, 2016, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) released the latest draft of proposed legislation to address California’s deep-seated water management problems – problems that have intensified during the state’s historic four-year drought. The bill is an important first step in efforts to address these difficult issues, and it includes helpful proposed investments in water recycling and other sustainable water management tools.

Bay Delta, © Vlad and Marina Butsky

However, we are still deeply concerned about this draft legislation. If enacted as written, this bill will weaken crucial, scientifically sound legal limits on pumping operations in the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary. Those limits, which were created under the Endangered Species Act, are there to protect salmon and other threatened and endangered fish and wildlife. Winter-run Chinook salmon and other species may not survive any additional weakening of protections.

The scientific community overwhelmingly agrees that we must let more fresh water flow through the Bay-Delta estuary to help Chinook salmon and other species reproduce, survive and migrate. Unfortunately, the proposals to manage the Bay Delta system in Senator Feinstein’s draft bill move in the opposite direction, and threaten to make conditions even worse for species that have been pushed to the brink by drought.

California simply can’t afford to weaken these standards further if we are going to sustain healthy salmon populations and restore the bountiful environment that we all require. Codifying weaker standards in a federal drought bill could make conditions even worse now and in the future.

This bill is just in its beginning stages, and we look forward to working with Senator Feinstein and her staff to address these concerns as it moves through the regular legislative process, including committee hearings. We’ve already shared our concerns with Senator Feinstein, and we plan to continue working to make sure that California’s drought is addressed in ways that help, rather than harm, salmon, orcas, and the diversity of other creatures that depend on the clean, fresh water that flows into the San Francisco Bay.

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5 Responses to “Not Enough Water for Wildlife in New Drought Bill”

  1. Suzanne Carcarey

    We have got to help them. I think we should tell or inform Trump. I think he would help. Its worth a try. If he helps our animals and environment then we could help him too. No one really seems to help or care in Congress. Could someone write him a letter. and make a plea before all our animals and environment are gone.

  2. Tom Maendle

    Pumping water at the expense of the wildlife, and our local ecology is not an effective solution to the drought. Taking more water is thinking along the same lines that put us in this position. The problem is not a drought it is poor management of resources, we allow too much water to go corporate interests, such as factory farms, oil drilling and bottled water companies. We dam rivers, create impervious surfaces and drill wells, this dries out the soil and prevents it from re-hydrating. However we receive enough rainfall even in drought years if we catch all the water that lands on our impervious surfaces, stop blatantly wasting water on useless causes, such as watering lawns and fracking, and most importantly switch from destructive large scale agriculture to healthy land use practices such as sustainable agriculture, permaculture, and reforesting with native plants. The knowledge, science and abilities are there the only block is that those in power consistently cave into powerful industry that doesn’t show any concern for the people, wildlife, the planet and the future generations.
    We are heading towards desert whether there is a drought or not, the drought just shows us what it may be like in the future as we continue to deplete our most precious resource.

  3. iriscutforth

    In the late 1960’s, it was suggested by a Canadian that the Mississippi should be dredged. Even with the help of those on welfare, but the dredging never occurred. Alberta and some of the other provinces of Canada have too much water. It was suggested in the 1980’s that a canal should be dug to bring the excess water to the Mississippi which once use to flow from Canada. The Alberta Dam was not to chosen site for the investor. The original site, was in the middle and above rock. Where was it placed? Between dirt and I am waiting for the big flood. Is there a reason we can not put welfare on a “work for food program”? Then, we also had American politicians entering as politicians in the Canadian world and the fisheries were closed down cause we could always buy from the US. Now, we have endangered trout. Seals are dying off as there is not enough fish. You want good wildlife, a place for birds and animals to eat, try fish farms. Bald eagles dying from lack of food? It mite be a mite that confuses them or takes away the appetite. There are just too many mice, rabbits around. Gold fish ponds mite help if they truly can’t find food. The canal is a good idea. I would volunteer a week for free. Would you?

  4. pacific flyway

    There are four salmon runs in California. Winter, Spring, Summer & Fall — four. Anyone can buy a salmon fishing license. A license to kill a ‘threatened endangered’ species. 80% of the water diverted from the Sacramento river passes through state-of-art fish screens so salmon stay safe in the river. Out-fall gates on farm drains keep salmon from wandering off and getting stranded or lost. Striped bass and black bass are voracious predators of salmon smolts. There are limits on how many can be caught. Striped bass are an introduced non-native fish prized by sport fisherman. Sport fishermen are employed by lawyers to help file lawsuits on behalf of their billionaire donors to seize power and control over the water distribution systems. The goal is to make fresh water more valuable than oil and profit from it. Fines and settlement payments collected from Farmers for ‘violations ‘ are handed directly over to environmental justice organizations, that function similarly as the fishermen. 200,000 tons of fresh gravel has been reintroduced to the Sacramento River for spawning habitat. Farmers continue making environmental enhancements to please an increasingly hostile electorate. Fishermen spend on boats, bait, beer & gear. Billionaires spend on political campaign contributions and donations to environmental organizations to employ armies of lawyers to advance their hunger for more power & wealth.

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