Dear USFWS Director Martha Williams and NMFS Assistant Administrator Janet Coit
As Californians who cares about salmon and environmental stewardship, we are writing to urge you to make sure that the rules governing operation of the federal water system in California, the Central Valley Project, include stronger protections for salmon and other fish species facing extinction.
We are salmon fishermen and women trying to make a living on the West Coast. We live in coastal communities along the California coast and elsewhere. We are the boating and the marine electronics industries. We are the people operating restaurants and hotels that serve people who come from all over the western US to fish salmon off the California coast. We are regular Californians worried as the unique and beautiful fish and wildlife and other natural resources of our state, disappear because of the unsustainable, over diversion, of California’s rivers.
Our future is now in your hands as you craft new water operation rules under the Endangered Species Act for federal dams that block salmon rivers and the massive Delta pumps. Done right, California’s salmon, other native species, and those of us who have sustainably coexisted with nature, will survive into the 21st century. But if you don’t correct course, we’ll see extinction of species that have been in California for tens of thousands of years. In addition, tens of thousands of people will lose family wage jobs.
The Biden Administration recognized the flaws in the water rules it inherited from the Trump Administration. The Trump rules ignored science and the law to divert even more Northern California salmon water to corporate ag operations. Yet we’re still being forced to live by the Trump rules with only the most minor modifications. The rewrite process currently underway isn’t proposing the kind of protections and changes needed.
What’s needed is to leave a little bit more water in the rivers to keep salmon and other wildlife alive. We also need science-based temperature requirements for reservoirs and downstream spawning beds to avoid the massive die off of salmon eggs we’re seeing. Those salmon kills have been caused by draining cold water from reservoirs like Shasta in order to deliver it to corporate agricultural operations.
You may be hearing from top officials in our state that they’re doing the best they can in drought conditions. You may be hearing them say the issue of rebalancing water use is delicate and this is no time to rock the boat. They’re wrong. We ask you to do your own due diligence and not simply rely on the word of the same old bureaucrats that refuse to challenge the status quo. Reducing water diversions isn’t going to wipe out agriculture in California but it will make water allocation fairer and give salmon a fighting chance.
Our salmon fishery isn’t the only casualty of California’s legacy of deference to corporate agricultural operations. Many small communities in the Central Valley are seeing community wells go dry as big ag neighbors unsustainably overdraft local aquifers. Underscoring the emergency we’re facing, the USFWS recently found that existing rules are inadequate to keep longfin smelt, another native fish that shares water and habitat with salmon, from going extinct. The Service proposed listing it as endangered under the ESA. Requiring better river flows to protect longfin will also help protect salmon.
Those causing the problems won’t fix them voluntarily. We need strong, enforceable rules instead of the wobbly aspirational “targets” currently being discussed. We need to manage our reservoirs more conservatively, making sure to leave enough at the end of the irrigation season in case the following year is dry.
After starving the rivers and salmon of water for multiple years, we have a pitiful number of adults returning to reproduce this year. We need rules that recover salmon and build toward the federal goal of one million naturally spawning salmon in the Central Valley (including non-listed runs like the fall-run.)
As your agencies work with the Bureau of Reclamation, consider that the status quo has utterly failed to stop the downward spiral of our native fish, including salmon. Tinkering around the edges with water rules that have proven deadly to native fish and wildlife is not what’s needed now. Though far from perfect, a few short years ago we had better federal protections in place and strong support for making them even better. Throw out the old Trump biological opinions and give us something that will finally protect salmon and other endangered fish. Please be bold. That’s what is needed now and why you were sent to Washington.
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