The year 2015 will become infamous as the one when many California fish populations reached record low levels, largely due to poor water management by the state and federal governments.
The Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Water Resources continued to drain Trinity, Shasta, Oroville and Folsom reservoirs to record low levels during a record drought to supply subsidized water to corporate agribusiness interests, Southern California water agencies and oil companies conducting fracking operations.
The good news in an otherwise disturbing outlook is the first El Niño storms that arrived at the end of the year to start recharging reservoirs depleted due to mismanagement by the agencies.
Folsom Lake dropped to a record low level of 14 percent by the end of November and early December – and other reservoirs around the state were plagued by record low water conditions.
Winter-run Chinook salmon, a federal and state endangered species, suffered from the second disastrous year in a row in the low, perishing in lethally warm conditions on the upper Sacramento River as almond growers continued to expand their water-intensive almond tree acreage on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
Only 318,000 juvenile winter-run salmon survived to pass Red Bluff in 2015, or just 3 percent of 9,744,000 eggs according to data released by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. Just 5 percent of the salmon survived to pass Red Bluff the previous year. By comparison, 41 percent of 2,0148,000 eggs survived to pass Red Bluff in 2011.
“I think everyone tried to make it work and despite everybody’s best efforts it still was too warm,” claimed Maria Rea, a deputy regional administrator with the service.
John McManus, Executive Director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA), disagreed. “Salmon fishermen and their families will pay a price for water allocation decisions made by others that decimated winter run salmon in the Sacramento River the last two years in a row,” he said.
For their failed plans to supposedly “save” the winter run, Rea and David Murillo, the MidPacific Director of theBureau of Reclamation, each receive an “Extinct Winter Run Chinook” award.
As the water agencies continued to drain Central Valley reservoirs, they also continued to export water through the Delta pumps during the drought, driving Delta fish species closer and closer to extinction.
Fish species ranging from endangered Delta smelt to striped bass plunged to record low population levels in 2015 in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, as revealed in the annual fall survey report released on December 18 by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).
Only 6 Delta smelt, an endangered species that once numbered in the millions and was the most abundant fish in the Delta, were collected at the index stations in the estuary this fall. The 2015 index (7), a relative number of abundance, “is the lowest in history,” said Sara Finstad, an environmental scientist for the CDFW’s Bay Delta Region.
Longfin smelt, a cousin of the Delta smelt, also declined to the lowest abundance index (4) in the history of the survey. Only 3 longfin were collected at the index stations throughout the three-month period.
The population of striped bass, a popular gamefish, declined to the second lowest level in history (52) Only 42 age 0 stripers were conducted at the survey stations.
The 2015 abundance index (79) for American shad is also the lowest in history. Only 59 American shad were collected at the index stations.
Finally, the abundance index (806) for threadfin shad, an introduced forage species. reached its eighth lowest level. The biologists collected 634 threadfin shad at the index stations.
For their continuing service to the water contractors at catastrophic expense to our fish populations, Natural Resources Secretary John Laird, DWR Director Mark Cowin, CDFW Director Chuck Bonham and State Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus each receive the “Delta Destruction Derby” award.
While those folks did “yeoman’s work” in their campaign to exterminate California fish populations, one individual, Ren Lohoefener, US Fish & Wildlife Service Regional Director, did more than anybody to sacrifice Delta smelt at the altar of corporate greed. Lohoefener allowed increased take of the smelt at the pumps in January 2015, due to a secret directive in December 2014.
Just days after the CDFW reported the Delta smelt population plummeted to a record low level in the fall 2014 survey, Roeenfener granted permission for the Central Valley Project and State Water Projects to double their killing of the smelt at the pumps. For this unforgivable act, Ren Lohoefener is granted the “Delta Smelt Killer” award.
On May 19, a 9 mile long oil spill began off the Santa Barbara County Coast after a badly corroded pipeline, carrying crude oil from offshore platforms deposited over 142,800 gallons (3,400 carrels) of crude onto one of the most biological diverse coastlines on the West Coast. The oil slick fouled four alleged “marine protected areas” – Naples, Kashtayit, Campus Point and Goleta Slough – created under the controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.
The oil damaged the coats, skin, beaks, and appendages of hundreds of animals – and workers eventually collected 202 dead birds and 99 dead mammals including at least 46 sea lions and 12 dolphins. However, the full impact on fish and smaller shellfish, barnacles and other small creatures in the food chain may not be known for decades.
For their negligence in maintaining the grossly corroded pipeline, Plains American Pipeline CEO Greg. L Armstrongreceives a “Big Oil Destroyer” award. He is proudly bestowed this award along with Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), who provided oil industry PR response to the spill, since the pipeline company is a member of her association. To make matters even worse, the very same oil lobbyist CHAIRED the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force to create the “marine protected areas” that were fouled by the spill!
Reheis-Boyd also gets another “prestigious” award for last year’s record oil industry “gusher” of lobbying expenses that ensured that no environmental bill opposed by Big Oil was able to make out of the Legislature unless it was amended, as in the case of SB 350, the green energy bill. The oil lobby broke its prior spending record, spending $22 million over the past year.
WSPA spent a record $11 million on lobbying, making it the number one corporate lobbying spender in California for the fourth year in a row. Reheis-Boyd receives the “Captured California” award for her industry’s successful capture of the regulatory apparatus in the state.
Speaking of the MLPA Initiative, Ron LeValley, the former co-chair of the MLPA Initiative “Science Advisory Team,” briefly hit the media spotlight when he got out of federal prison in the spring after serving 9-1/2 months for embezzling over $830,000 from the Yurok Tribe, the largest Indian Tribe in California.
“The legal experience did cost me quite a bit and I would like to pay off my bills,” said LeValley in an email to supporters. “So if you have a favorite photo, please order one from me! Many thanks to you all for the support I received while I was on ‘sabbatical.’”
For casually dismissing his prison sentence as a “sabbatical,” LeValley is granted the “No Shame at All” award.
A rotten drainage deal signed by the Westlands Water District, considered the “Darth Vader” of California water politics, and the Obama administration in September can be compared to the bank bailout of 2008: “The wealthy and powerful corporate interests that caused the crisis are allowed to exit the burning aircraft with golden parachutes,” quipped Tom Stokely of the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN).
In the deal that requires congressional approval, the administration will forgive the district’s $375 million interest-free repayment obligation to taxpayers for construction of the federal Central Valley Project, the massive apparatus that delivers water from the Delta to corporate agribusiness interests on the western San Joaquin Valley. The agreement also converts the district’s current two-year water contracts to a permanent contract for up to 890,000 acre-feet of water annually, subject to the availability of water, according to Stokely.
For their successful effort to bail Westlands out, Tom Birmingham, the Westlands general manager, Secretary of Interior Sally Jewel, President Barack Obama and other administration officials are granted the “Dirty Water Deal” award of 2015.
Finally, there comes the most prestigious award, the “Cold, Dead Fish.” For the fourth year in a row, I must give the award to Governor Jerry Brown, since no individual has done more in his power to destroy the fish, water and environment of California.
As I mentioned already, 2015 California fish populations ranging from Delta smelt to striped bass dropped to record low levels under his watch. As Brown’s allies in the Obama administration continued to send winter run Chinook salmon, as well as the fall, late fall and spring runs, to the scaffold, Brown continued to promote anti-environmental policies that have surpassed those of any previous California administration.
While Brown gushed about his “green energy” and carbon trading policies at the Paris Climate Conference in December and other photo opportunities throughout the year, he continued to enthusiastically support the expansion of fracking in California, rejecting calls to ban fracking from a coalition of over 200 environmental and public interests groups.
He and his Obama administration partners, after federal EPA scientists trashed the “science” of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the Delta Tunnels, instead divided the project into two components, the California Water Fix, the “conveyance” component, and the California Eco Restore, the “habitat” conservation component, in July. And this new fast-tracked project allowed for no public meetings; the “fix was in” as many folks quipped.
At this point, there are no environmental groups (with the exception of Jerry Meral’s Natural Heritage Institute), fishing groups or tribes that the support the Delta Tunnels project. Yet Brown continues to push this boondoggle forward, in spite of the fact that there is no example in U.S. or world history where a project that took more water out of a river resulted in ecosystem restoration.
The project would hasten the extinction of Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River winter and spring run Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish speciesm as well as imperil the salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers.
Proper accounting for Brown’s other abysmal environmental policies would fill a very large book. Here are just a few:
• Brown supports carbon trading and REDD. REDD is the acronym for “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation,” but Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, and indigenous leaders throughout the world throughout the world say REDD really means “Reaping profits from Evictions, land grabs, Deforestation and Destruction of biodiversity.”
• His administration was beset with numerous environmental scandals, ranging from the resignation of his top oil regulator to the resignation of two Fish and Game Commissioners, Jim Kellogg and Jack Bayliss and the Commission’s Executive Director, Sonke Mastrup.
• Brown “completed” the faux “marine protected areas” developed under the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative. These “marine protected areas, based on terminally flawed “science” and the violation of the gathering rights of the Yurok Tribe and other North Coast Tribes, fail to protect the ocean from fracking, offshore oil drilling, pollution, oil spills, military testing, corporate aquaculture and all human impacts on the ocean other than sustainable fishing and gathering.
• And it was only after months of intense pressure from environmentalists, public health advocates and Porter Ranch residents that Governor Brown declared a state of emergency in the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak disaster that began on October 23.
In an apparent familial conflict of interest, Brown’s sister, Kathleen, plays a significant role at Sempra Energy, the corporation that owns SoCalGas, the company responsible for the gas blowout. She earned $188,380 in her position as a board member in 2014 and $267,865 in 2013.
For his unprecedented war on fish, water and the environment as he poses as a “Green Governor” promoting “green energy” and addressing “climate change,” Brown receives the “Cold, Dead Fish Award” for the fourth year in a row.