[env-trinity] Dan Bacher Article on Delta Hearing

Byron bwl3 at comcast.net
Thu Mar 2 16:40:58 PST 2006

Scientists At Congressional Hearing: No Simple Answers For Delta Decline 

by Dan Bacher 

Seven state and federal scientists, who testified on the Delta fishery
decline in a House Resources Committee Hearing conducted by Congressman
Richard Pombo in Stockton on February 27, said they don't yet have any clear
answers to why Delta smelt, juvenile striped bass, longfin smelt and
threadfin shad have plummeted to record low levels over the past several

Agency administrators apparently coached the scientists to avoid answering
the hard questions - those that connected science with water policy - like
those asked by Congressman George Miller and other Representatives.

"There is no simple answer to the causes of the pelagic organism decline,"
said Chuck Armor, Operations Manager of the DFG's Central Valley Bay-Delta
Branch, contending that the causes are complex and vary by species. Armor
and other scientists said the three possible causes are toxics, water flows
and exports and invasive species.

Before and after the meeting, over 30 representatives of fishing and
environmental groups held signs on the street outside of the hearing, asking
Congress to save the Delta and stop water exports. Those folks joined with
many others inside the hearing room to make the event a standing room only

Fishing groups criticized Pombo for not inviting independent scientists and
the public to testify. "I'm disappointed by the panel that was chosen, since
it was essentially representatives of state and federal agencies who were
there to defend the actions of those agencies," said Bill Jennings, chairman
of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. " It's the proverbial
case of asking the fox to guard the chicken coop."

Unfortunately, the scientists failed to point out the major role that
exports play in fish declines, in spite of the evidence accumulated by both
government and independent biologists for over 30 years.   

"Although the impacts of entrainment losses have been implicated in the
decline of the delta smelt, particularly in the south Delta, it is apparent
that other causes such as non native species, contaminants and changes in
food supply may also be limiting species recovery," said David Harlow, U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service Sacramento Field Office Supervisor. "Accordingly,
it is unlikely that reduction of export pumping is sufficient alone to bring
about recovery."

One theory advanced by the scientists - the "Bad Suisun Bay hypothesis" -
said that the Asian clam and other species have altered the bay's food web.
Introductions of various small shrimp-like animals have also impacted the
bay's food chain, according to Matt Nobriga of the California Department of
Water Resources.

Miller, who spurred Pombo to conduct the hearings, emphasized that the
hearing should only be the first of several steps in solving the Delta
pelagic fish decline, including implementing policy to save the ecosystem.

"In addition to talking to federal and state agency scientists, we have a
responsibility to discuss and implement policy. In addition to learning what
has been done, we need to determine what should be done to protect the
health of the Delta," he said in his opening statement.

Pombo, who in his 1996 book This Land is Our Land" claimed that the
environmental protections needed for the restoration of the Delta and other
ecosystems "are borrowed from fascists, anarchists, globalists, and
communists," said Delta policy decisions should be made on the basis of
"science" rather than "finger pointing."

"Some Delta fish species are at all time low, but no one can responsibly say
why," said Pombo "The easy way out is to point at some policy or
infrastructure hated by some groups. Throwing money at the cause of the
month will not get us anywhere either. Science, not politics, must be the
basis of our environmental politics and responses."

However, Miller pointed out how the advice of the scientists is frequently
discarded by state and federal water agencies when it conflicts with
political pressure by water users to provide water exports.

Miller emphasized how the federal and state water agencies in 2005 twice
overrode the recommendations of scientists to temporarily reduce pumping, in
spite of their full knowledge that Delta fish were undergoing an alarming
decline. "We can keep talking about the best available science, but when you
have the best available science, it is not being followed," said Miller. 

Miller also criticized the state and federal agencies for failing to discuss
the impact of proposed increases in state and federal exports upon the Delta

 "We got to figure out what's going on today to make a decision on the
future protocol for the operation of the pumps," said Miller. "We must try
to make sure that the impacts of increased pumping are not taken out of the

At one point Miller asked David Harlow, "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 Asian clams, would you? You wouldn't
increase more herbicides, would you?"

To Miller's question about the impacts of export increases, Harlow said,
"I've been advised by legal counsel not to speculate."

The enforced silence of the scientists about pumping impacts was apparent
again when Rep. Dennis Cardoza asked, "Do you see any tremendous benefits in
shutting the pumps down?

None of the scientists responded. "By their silence we know a lot," said

Rep. Grace Napolitano, D. -Norwalk, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater, and Rep.
George Radanovich, R. Mariposa, also questioned the scientists at the

In spite of the hearing's shortcomings, Bill Jennings and other fishing
group representatives said it was an important step for Congress to make.
"I'm glad that Miller said that now is not the time to increase water
exports or undertake the hydrological changes proposed by the state and
federal governments," said Jennings. 

"I think that Representatives Miller and Cardoza had good questions, but the
scientists didn't have good answers to the causes of the Delta decline,"
summed up Red Bartley, northern California board member of the Recreational
Fishing Alliance."

"This is just stage one of many stages in the battle to restore the Delta.
If we don't stop money from being the driving force in making decisions,
rather than science, the Delta doesn't have a chance," said Bob Strickland,
president of United Anglers of California.

A diverse array of fishing and environmental groups appeared at the hearing.
Dick Pool, board member of the American Sportfishing Association, Jim
Martin, West Coast Director of RFA, Gary Adams, president of the California
Striped Bass Association (CSBA), Jay Sorenson, founder of the CSBA, Dan
Wolford from Coastside Fishing Club, Mark Rockwell from the Federation of
Fly Fishers and John Ryzanych from the Bay Delta Sport Fishing Enhancement
Stamp Committee attended the hearing. David Nesmith of the Environmental
Water Caucus, Barry Nelson from the Natural Resources Defense Council and
Brent Plater of the Center for Biological Diversity also came to the event.
Many gave written statements to the Representatives to put in the hearing



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





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