[env-trinity] More Print Media Coverage on Delta Collapse Hearing

Byron bwl3 at comcast.net
Tue Feb 28 11:05:01 PST 2006


Critics say money spent on California delta has produced little

North County Times - 2/27/06

By Don Thompson, Associated Press

 

STOCKTON -- Frustrated members of Congress vented their anger at efforts to
save California's most crucial water source on Monday, saying millions of
dollars have been spent to study problems in the Sacramento-San Joaquin
River Delta with little to show for it.

Water managers have spent 15 years "spending literally hundreds of millions
of dollars, and billions of dollars in lost economic activity, and none of
that has worked," U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, said during a field
hearing focused on the delta's problems.

 

Pombo, chairman of the House Resources Committee and a critic of the federal
Endangered Species Act, called the hearing to focus attention on the decline
of four key delta fish species. The plight of the fish has raised concerns
that the overall health of the vast estuary is being jeopardized by
pesticides, agricultural pumping, invasive species and other problems.

 


 

The delta is the linchpin of California's water supply, draining 42 percent
of the state's land mass and providing drinking water to two-thirds of the
state. It also is the key water source for one of the nation's most fertile
farming regions.

Scientific studies cost $2 million last year and are projected to cost $3.7
million this year in an attempt to find a cause for the historic drop in the
number of delta smelt, striped bass, longfin smelt and threadfin shad.

Implementing steps to save those species could cost millions more, according
to state water officials, and could disrupt plans to divert more of the
delta's water for Central Valley agriculture and Southern California water
agencies.

Criticism of the attempts to solve the delta's many problems -- and
reconcile the needs of the farmers, fishermen and municipalities that depend
on it -- was bipartisan during Monday's hearing.

"After all the time being under the microscope, you'd think we'd know more
than we do," said U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Norwalk.

She said answers are needed "not two years from now but hopefully this
year."

U.S. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater, said blame has centered variously on
the pumps that divert water to farmers and cities, on power plants, on
invasive species, on a decline in the food chain and on toxic contamination.
He said the lack of answers has been disappointing.

"Instead of seeing improvements, the problem seems to be getting worse,"
Cardoza said. "Shutting down the pumps has wasted money and water and time."

Fishermen, environmentalists and political opponents of Pombo also attended
the hearing in this port city south of Sacramento and said water diversions
are primarily to blame for the delta's environmental decline.

U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, criticized state and federal water
managers for proposing an increase in pumping without first studying whether
it will further damage the delta.

Biologists' previous recommendations to reduce pumping in an effort to save
fish species have sometimes been ignored or delayed, said Miller, a former
chairman of the committee.

"We really don't know yet" the effect of the pumping on fish, said Mike
Chotkowski, a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the
agency that runs the federal pumps. "We're working on it."

The delta is a complex ecosystem with many annual variables in water flow,
temperature, pumping and other factors, Ted Sommer, chief of the California
Department of Water Resources' aquatic ecology section, said in response to
the criticism leveled Monday.

"We still have a lot of questions that we need to answer over the next
couple of years," he said.

 

Cure sought for ailing Delta; Invasive species, pesticides, exportation of
water hurting system, scientists tell Congress

Oakland Tribune - 2/28/06

By Douglas Fischer, staff writer

 

STOCKTON - The House Resources Committee hauled seven government scientists
to the table Monday to offer their best assessment on the collapse of the
Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta's ecosystem. 

 

Their answer was as murky as the waters running through the sloughs and
channels near here: "There is no end date where we can confidently predict
we'll have an answer," offered Mike Chotkowski, a fisheries biologist for
the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, in response to one congresswoman's question.


 

It could have stood for many others. 

 

The Delta's health has alarmed and puzzled scientists and government water
managers recently. Fish stocks have dropped to historic lows despite
millions of dollars spent on restoration efforts and consecutive years of
relatively abundant rainfall. 

 

At Monday's field hearing, scientists described the daunting task of trying
to assess the health of one of the West Coast's largest river systems - the
water source of two-thirds of California's 35 million people and much of the
state's $32 billion agriculture industry. 

 

"The current decline ... is a very complex problem," said David Harlow,
assistant field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "It is
unlikely there will be a simple solution." 

 

But the threat to the Delta's health likely comes from three main culprits,
scientists told lawmakers: invasive species that out-compete native fish for
food, pesticides and other contaminants that sully water quality, and water
exports that lately have diverted record amounts of water to Southern
California and the Central Valley. 

 

"The complexity of the problem almost defies putting your thumb on any
particular solution," said Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez. 

 

And while conservationists have called loudly for those water exports to
decrease, scientists on Monday steadfastly skirted any recommendation for
that political hot potato - despite some lawmakers' best efforts. One
exchange between Miller, the congressman, and Harlow, the field supervisor: 

 

Miller: "How can you have an increase in exports at a time when you don't
know the interaction of exports among the impacts? You wouldn't introduce
more (invasive) clams at this point, would you?" 

 

Harlow: "Right." 

 

"You wouldn't increase more herbicides at this point, would you?" 

 

"Right." 

 

"Yet at this point various agencies have put in motion ... a course of
action that will lead to more exports." 

 

"I've been advised by legal counsel not to speculate." 

 

Still, scientists repeatedly said Monday water exports, the vast amount of
which go to agriculture, are just one piece of the puzzle. 

 

The Suisun Bay, once an important nursery for many Delta species, is now
virtually carpeted with a tiny invasive clam that essentially vacuums up the
bottom of the food web, leaving little food for small fish. "We call it the
'bad Suisun Bay hypothesis,'" said Matt Nobriga, an environmental scientist
for the California Department of Water Resources. 

 

The introduction of a new class of short-lived pesticides meant to replace
longer-living ones may have backfired, added Rich Breuer, program manager
for the Department of Water Resources' water quality and estuarine studies.
Studies of fish livers show considerably more lesions when compared with
archived samples, Breuer added, though no one can say whether such damage
comes from pesticides or starvation. 

 

Meanwhile populations of Delta smelt have plummeted. 

 

Last year, the state sent a record 6.4 million acre-feet of water south - 2
trillion gallons, or enough to cover San Francisco to the base of Coit
Tower. Plans are in the works to increase that amount. 

 

Thus, in a meeting ostensibly devoted to science of an ecosystem, the focus
kept returning to the politics of water. 

 

"I look at this and I'm somewhat concerned," said Resources Committee
Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Tracy. "In the last 15 years we've spent hundreds
of millions (of dollars) on restoration efforts and billions in lost
economic activity (due to restrictions on water exports) and it doesn't seem
that any of that has worked." 

 

There's plenty of pressure to increase exports no matter what the science
says, particularly with the Colorado River increasingly off-limits to
California - which had Miller objecting to this notion of "sound science." 

 

"If you rig the game at the outset then it's very hard to come up with a
valid response," Miller said after the hearing. "There's a lot of politics
being dumped on top of the attempts to improve the Delta system." 

 

"You can wake up one day and find the Delta (has) completely collapsed." 

 

The House Resources Committee will accept written testimony on the Delta's
health through March 10. More information can be found on the Web at
http://www.resourcescommittee.house.gov.

 

 

Byron Leydecker

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

Advisor, California Trout, Inc

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 ph

415 383 9562 fx

bwl3 at comcast.net

bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org

http://www.fotr.org

http:www.caltrout.org 

 

 

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