FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Federal Appeals Court Backs Protections for Central Valley Salmon

On December 22, a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled that a 2009 “biological opinion” that protects the habitat of endangered salmon in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers from increased water exports to San Joaquin Valley agribusiness and Southern California water agencies would stand in its entirety.

The decision by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit preserves “science-based guidelines” for managing water flows through the San Francisco Bay-Delta at levels that protect imperiled fish and orcas and help to restore the Delta ecosystem, according to a statement from Earthjustice.

A three-judge panel ruled in favor of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in appealing a lower court’s decision that would have invalidated several of the water pumping limits and other protections established under the biological opinion.

Judge Richard Tallman, who wrote the decision, said the panel agreed that the federal scientists “used the best scientific data available, even if that science was not always perfect.”

Tallman wrote, “Specifically, the panel found that: (1) the Service acted within its substantial discretion when it used raw salvage data instead of data scaled to fish population to set flows in the Old and Middle Rivers; (2) the Service’s jeopardy opinion components were not arbitrary and capricious as they pertained to the winter-run Chinook, the Southern Resident orca, the steelhead critical habitat, and the impact of indirect mortality factors on the listed species; and (3) the Biological Opinion’s challenged reasonable and prudent alternative actions were not arbitrary and capricious.”

The legal opinion is available here.

Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council represented the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, Sacramento River Preservation Trust, San Francisco Baykeeper, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Northern California Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers, Friends of the River, California Trout and Bay Institute as defendant intervenors.

Earthjustice said the ruling reinforces landmark federal management plans for the Central Valley Project and State Water Project that protect the watershed’s imperiled fish and their critical habitat. The Plaintiffs, including the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority and the Westlands Water District, sought to invalidate the 2009 biological opinion.

Other plaintiffs in the case include the Stockton East Water District, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Oakdale Irrigation District, South San Joaquin Water District, Kern County Water Agency, Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, an “Astroturf” group set up by Stewart Resnick of Paramount Farms, and the State Water Contactors.

The invalidation of the opinion would have dramatically increased exports of water from the Bay Delta, eviscerating protections for Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, the southern distinct population segment of north American green sturgeon, and southern resident killer whales, all species protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, according to Earthjustice.

The southern resident killer whales are imperiled by declines in Central Valley salmon, since salmon are one of their major sources of forage.

“The effect of California’s drought cannot be blamed on these protected fish and mammals,” said Stacey Geis, Earthjustice managing attorney. “It was good to see the Ninth Circuit recognize that science not politics should guide our management of water flows.”

“Siphoning more water out of the Bay-Delta to industrial scale farms in the semi-arid southern parts of the state would only doom the health of the Bay-Delta and the complex web of life it supports. The salmon biological opinion is a keystone element of the effort to restore the Bay-Delta to health and to keep California’s commercial and recreational fishing industries from collapsing. Today’s decision will keep those flows in place and protect the Delta,” Geis concluded.

Bob Muir, spokesman for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), said, “The decision is not surprising, since it was similar to the recent Delta smelt decision, and the Delta smelt case set the bar. We have petitioned the US. Supreme Court to hear the Delta smelt case.”

I am very glad that the court upheld protections for Central Valley salmon and steelhead, green sturgeon and southern resident killer whales, especially after Hal Bonslett, the late publisher and co-founder of the Fish Sniffer magazine, and I played a key role in getting winter-run Chinook salmon listed under the state and federal Endangered Species Acts. We spent many hours in the late 1980s going to Fish and Game Commission and other meetings and writing articles supporting the listing at a time than many recreational and commercial fishing groups did not back listing the fish, fearing that it would result in inevitable fishing restrictions.

Hal and I argued, along with the leaders of the Sacramento River Preservation Trust, Tehama Flyfishers and other grassroots groups, that the winter-run Chinook population was so low – down to 200 fish at one point – that dramatic, drastic action had to be taken to save the fish from going over the abyss of extinction.

Although the winter run hasn’t recovered to historical levels like we hoped it would, due to constant attacks by the Westlands Water District and corporate agribusiness interests, the ESA listing by the state and federal governments did prevent the winter run Chinook from becoming extinct.

I remember one Department of Fish and Game official at the time claiming the population level of winter run Chinook was “stable” when in fact the population had declined to the lowest level ever recorded. Fortunately, a brave federal scientist exposed the DFG’s claim to be completely false.

Tunnel plan and Shasta dam raise threaten salmon and steelhead

While this court decision is a victory, Central Valley winter Chinook salmon and other fish species are threatened by Governor Jerry Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels, a $68 billion project designed to facilitate the export of more water to corporate agribusiness, Southern California water agencies and oil companies conducting fracking and steam injection operations in Kern County. The construction of the massive tunnels under the Delta would hasten the extinction of Central Valley salmon, Delta and longfin smelt and green sturgeon, as well as imperiling the salmon and steelhead populations of the Trinity and Klamath rivers.

In addition, the Bureau of Reclamation continues to fast-track a plan to raise Shasta Dam that also threatens winter-run Chinook salmon, steelhead and green sturgeon. The plan is opposed by the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, other Tribes, fishing groups and enviromental organizations. Instead of raising the dam, the Bureau of Reclamation should be working with the Winnemem Wintu to bring back the native run of McCloud River winter-run Chinook salmon from New Zealand to be reintroduced to the fish’s original spawning grounds above Shasta Reservoir.

To read about the Winnemem Wintu’s War Dance in September against the Shasta Dam raise, go here.

The BDCP and Shasta Dam raise proposal are not the only challenges that winter run Chinooks and other Central Valley salmon populations face in their battle for survival. Many endangered Sacramento River winter run-Chinook salmon are currently taking a wrong turn into a drainage ditch in the Yolo Bypass – a mistake that eliminates their chance of spawning and endangers future generations.

Over 60 adult salmon were found dead recently in a drainage canal in the Yolo Bypass. The dead salmon, weighing between 5 and 30 pounds, were scattered along the banks and in the water. The cause of death was not immediately known, but the adult salmon were lost in a drainage system guaranteed to block their successful reproduction.

According to Severn Williams of Public Good PR, “Keeping the salmon on course would require a low-cost, easy engineering fix on the part of the California Department of Water Resources and the Federal Bureau of Reclamation, but these public agencies are dragging their feet, and more fish are lost each day. If DWR and BOR act soon with a simple fix, this endangered species could have a greater chance of recovery in the years to come.”

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher danielbacher@fishsniffer.com.

More articles by:

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher danielbacher@fishsniffer.com.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
Andrew Levine
Have They No Decency?
David Yearsley
Kind of Blue at 60
Ramzy Baroud
Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The War on Nature
Martha Rosenberg
Catch and Hang Live Chickens for Slaughter: $11 an Hour Possible!
Yoav Litvin
Israel Fears a Visit by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
Neve Gordon
It’s No Wonder the Military likes Violent Video Games, They Can Help Train Civilians to Become Warriors
Susan Miller
That Debacle at the Border is Genocide
Ralph Nader
With the Boeing 737 MAX Grounded, Top Boeing Bosses Must Testify Before Congress Now
Victor Grossman
Warnings, Ancient and Modern
Meena Miriam Yust - Arshad Khan
The Microplastic Threat
Kavitha Muralidharan
‘Today We Seek Those Fish in Discovery Channel’
Louis Proyect
The Vanity Cinema of Quentin Tarantino
Bob Scofield
Tit For Tat: Baltimore Takes Another Hit, This Time From Uruguay
Nozomi Hayase
The Prosecution of Julian Assange Affects Us All
Ron Jacobs
People’s Music for the Soul
John Feffer
Is America Crazy?
Jonathan Power
Russia and China are Growing Closer Again
John W. Whitehead
Who Inflicts the Most Gun Violence in America? The U.S. Government and Its Police Forces
Justin Vest
ICE: You’re Not Welcome in the South
Jill Richardson
Race is a Social Construct, But It Still Matters
Dean Baker
The NYT Gets the Story on Automation and Inequality Completely Wrong
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Retains Political Control After New US Coercive Measures
Gary Leupp
MSNBC and the Next Election: Racism is the Issue (and Don’t Talk about Socialism)
R. G. Davis
Paul Krassner: Investigative Satirist
Negin Owliaei
Red State Rip Off: Cutting Worker Pay by $1.5 Billion
Christopher Brauchli
The Side of Trump We Rarely See
Curtis Johnson
The Unbroken Line: From Slavery to the El Paso Shooting
Jesse Jackson
End Endless War and Bring Peace to Korea
Adolf Alzuphar
Diary: What About a New City Center?
Tracey L. Rogers
Candidates Need a Moral Vision
Nicky Reid
I Was a Red Flag Kid
John Kendall Hawkins
The Sixties Victory Lap in an Empty Arena
Stephen Cooper
Tony Chin’s Unstoppable, Historic Career in Music
Charles R. Larson
Review: Bruno Latour’s Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime
Elizabeth Keyes
Haiku Fighting
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail