[env-trinity] NMFS's Biological Opinion

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Thu Jun 18 14:11:04 PDT 2009

Tightening the tap

Feds order state to cut water project flows


By Dan Bacher

 <http://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/dan_bacher/author> More stories by
this author...

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Killer whales once roamed the West Coast from Puget Sound to California by
the thousands. Today, there are only 85 orcas left in the region.


Dan Bacher is the editor of the Elk Grove-based Fish Sniffer magazine and a
longtime advocate for fishery restoration in California and the West.

In a court-ordered plan released on June 4, scientists from the National
Marine Fisheries Service concluded that current water-pumping operations of
the federal Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project
should be changed to ensure survival of four imperiled fish species and one
orca population.

The biological opinion lists a number of steps the state and federal
governments must take to protect winter- and spring-run chinook salmon,
Central Valley steelhead, southern green sturgeon and southern resident
killer whales from going over the abyss of extinction. The whales, now
numbering only 85 individuals along the coast from Puget Sound to
California, rely on Sacramento River salmon for food.

Changing water operations will impact an estimated 5 to 7 percent of the
water exported annually to San Joaquin Valley water contractors and Southern
California by the federal and state pumps. That 330,000 acre feet per year,
according to Maria Rea, the NMFS area supervisor.

The opinion also calls for pilot passage programs at Folsom, Nimbus and
Shasta dams to reintroduce salmon and steelhead to historic cold-water
habitat above the dams. We want to get winter-run chinook back to habitat in
the McCloud River and steelhead back to habitat in the upper American River,
said Rea.

Other key measures of the plan include:

Requiring more cold water held behind Shasta Dam for release during salmon
migration and spawning seasons.

Reducing the amount of time the Red Bluff Diversion Dam gates are closed.

Requiring better flows and colder water to enhance salmon spawning and
habitat in the American and Stanislaus rivers.

Reducing pumping when juvenile salmon are migrating through the Delta.

The biological opinion doesn't take a position pro or con regarding the
proposed peripheral canal, but cautions that careful planning must be
conducted to avoid jeopardy to endangered species. The scientists also said
the opinion would have to be reinitiated if the canal is authorized for

Sarah Woolf, spokesperson for the Westlands Water District, called the
opinion a death sentence for large parts of California's economy. She said
the district intends to file a lawsuit to have this opinion set aside and
compel the National Marine Fisheries Service to go back and perform the
careful analysis it should have done to assess the potential harm this plan
could do to public health and safety, communities and the environment.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also attacked the plan for its alleged economic
impacts. This federal biological opinion puts fish above the needs of
millions of Californians and the health and security of the world's eighth
largest economy, claimed Schwarzenegger. The piling on of one federal court
decision after another in a species-by-species approach is killing our
economy and undermining the integrity of the Endangered Species Act.

In contrast to Schwarzenegger's attack on the peer-reviewed opinion, U.S.
Reps. George Miller, Mike Thompson and Doris Matsui applauded the decision.

With this announcement, the Obama administration has set a science-based
course toward recovering the populations of wild salmon and steelhead that
are so critical to California's economy and environment, said Miller.

Representatives of fishing organizations and California American Indian
tribes reacted to the plans release with mixed assessments, ranging from
outright praise to skepticism.

These changes are exactly what we have been looking for, said Dick Pool,
administrator of Water for Fish. We have been operating on an environmental
disaster course for salmon, and these actions are the beginning of the

The biological opinion is a long overdue but welcome initial step in
protecting species hovering on the brink of extinction, stated Bill
Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection
Alliance. However, it is not a recovery plan that will restore seriously
degraded fisheries; much more will be required.

Gary Mulcahy, governmental liaison for the Winnemem Wintu tribe, was less
optimistic. Though this biological opinion may set out new rules and
guidelines that seek to protect our water and fisheries, I truly expect the
big agribusiness and water buffaloes to use their power to find some way
around it, and complete the extinction they so readily pursue in the name of
progress, commerce and economic growth, he concluded.



Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land

415 519 4810 cell

 <mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net

 <mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org

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