Dear Governor Newsom,
Salmon are in a painful struggle for survival because of a man-made crisis. The state’s salmon fishery will close in 2023 for only the second time in the state’s history. In dry years, your agencies have slashed environmental protections, exposing native fish populations to extreme harm and leaving flows in some rivers so low that toxic algae make the water unfit for drinking or swimming. In wet years, you have encouraged state agencies to waive environmental protections again, preventing fish, wildlife, and water quality from recovering.
Our salmon need rivers flowing with cold rushing water to survive. People, families, jobs, communities and cultures are affected. And as a keystone species, entire ecosystems need salmon and other Bay- Delta fish to survive. California’s fleet of salmon fishing boats will be idled this year and indigenous Californians are being deprived both of an important food source and their cultural heritage.
The cause of the crisis is clear, and so is the solution. Too much of the fresh water that once flowed from rivers in the Sierra Nevada to the Delta and Bay has been diverted. In an average year, more than half of the Bay’s inflow is diverted—and about 80% of that goes to industrial agriculture. This unsustainable demand leaves too little water in our rivers to support spawning and migrating salmon, and too little cold water behind reservoirs to sustain fish eggs as they incubate.
California’s Bay-Delta needs a plan that’s based on science rather than the demands of powerful water districts. For years, you have tried to negotiate a compromise with the state’s largest agricultural water districts – negotiations that excluded input from commercial and recreational fishermen and women, environmental organizations, and tribes. The resulting proposals – termed “voluntary agreements” – defy science and deny the need to reduce the state’s unsustainable water demands.
The State Water Board’s Bay-Delta Plan is intended to prevent the kind of ecosystem collapse we are now witnessing. The Board has been trying to update standards in this plan for over a decade – but you have blocked these efforts in favor of voluntary settlements with big water districts. Science-based updates would set aside more water to maintain our rivers and fish and force cities and industrial agricultural operators to use water more efficiently.
The State Water Board can avert a further crisis in Bay-Delta—in fact, it is legally required to do so. Please stop blocking the State Water Board’s update of environmental safeguards and, instead, encourage the Water Board to complete a science-based update of the Bay-Delta Plan quickly and then immediately implement the strong protections our Bay-Delta and fisheries desperately need.
It’s time to be on the right side of history and prevent the extinction of salmon, a keystone species, and the jobs, people, businesses and communities this fishery supports.
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