Little Fish, Big Problems

Without more freshwater flows, the tiny and endangered delta smelt could soon be a literal fish out of water

The delta smelt is a tiny silver fish with an oversized amount of problems. To begin with, this fish is on the brink of extinction, and may not survive the next few years. It also faces threats such as getting sucked into giant pumps that divert water south, or trapped by predators when the pumps pull river flows backwards. As if that was not bad enough, the extended drought has ravaged California over four years, making fresh water scarce, and massive water diversions are making the delta smelt’s habitat way too salty. Add to that the fact that the delta smelt has become the poster child for water wars waged in the halls of Congress, and it all stacks up pretty poorly for the little fish that was once considered a bellwether of the overall health of the San Francisco Bay Estuary, the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas.

We are seeking relief for the delta smelt. Instead of ensuring that this fish gets the water it needs to survive, the federal and state agencies have continued to tip the scales against the delta smelt by allowing more and more water to be diverted away from the San Francisco Bay Estuary. Today Defenders of Wildlife joined with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Bay Institute to call upon the California State Water Resources Board to issue an emergency ruling to save this endangered fish by providing it with more of the freshwater flows it needs. By sending more water to the San Francisco Bay Estuary to help the smelt survive, the water board will also improve the overall health of the estuary.

In June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the minimum water levels needed to support delta smelt. But state (California Department of Water Resources) and federal (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation) water management agencies are not providing enough water to create those habitat conditions. Instead, water is being diverted from key waterways that feed into the San Francisco Bay Estuary. So we’re asking California’s water board to step up and adopt emergency regulations bring more freshwater flows into the estuary to restore the habitat conditions that the delta smelt need to survive.

The fight here is not just about saving the delta smelt. It is a fight to save the San Francisco Bay Estuary and all of the fish and wildlife that live there. The fish and wildlife agencies recognized that when they called for more water, and we have joined in that call with our request to the water board.

Will the water board respond? We sure hope so.

13 Responses to “Little Fish, Big Problems”

  1. Bob Fritsch

    Export them to Lake Michigan where we have LOTS of fresh water. Our Smelt have been in decline for decades. The Delta Smelt would be forage for predator fish such as Salmon & Trout but would @ least NOT become extinct from lack of freshwater.

  2. Hollie Giacone

    Why doesn’t the government stop letting the Bay Area Municipalities dump a BILLION GALLONS PER DAY of SEWAGE into the Rivers that end up in the Delta!.. Then Nor Cal won’t need to Flush it’s Delta Toilet Bowl and Criminally WASTE WATER! The Fish are worse off than EVER AFTER DECADES OF THIS FAILED POLICY!!! STOP THE LIES! It is very Blatantantly OBVIOUS these policies have nothing to do with protecting fish and everything to do with undermining the Food Security of the USA! WAKE UP!

  3. Lloyd

    The environmentalists’ demand for even more water to restore Delta smelt is irresponsible, given the widely acknowledged fact (even by the very same environmentalists) that multiple stressors on the fish are responsible for its continued decline. To-date, only a single stressor – flows – has been addressed, multiple times, without improvement to the fish population. A second stressor has been addressed by the State Water Resources Control Board (ammonia inputs from regional sewage treatment plants) but these physical and operational improvements by the sewage treatment plants will be implemented over the next decade. There are many other stressors that have as-yet been unaddressed, including but not limited to predation by other fishes, competition for habitat space by other fishes, and water pollution from both urban and agricultural sources. Could one of these be the key to reversing the decline? There is little evidence of this simply because there has been almost no scientific study of these other stressors.

  4. Rick Jansson

    Requesting that the California Stste Water Resources Board issue an emergency ruling to Dave the delta smelt by providing the water flows it needs to survive and prevent extinction.

  5. Lyda Hersloff

    AS goes this fish, so to the planet. People in charge of decisions about life we share the planet with should know that every action has a reaction.

  6. rich

    atta/the clintons let them in/student visas/as in the usa/udo remember atta right?/ask linda tripp/and ps i have donated to dow before/check the records

  7. Bryan Kirshon

    The delta smelt found in the Atlantic is facing many challenges such as being sucked in a sewer pump or trapped by a predator another threat is the summer drought with the wildfires making life miserable for this fish also found in the pacific also called a freshwater smelt join the defenders of wildlife.

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