REACTIONS (Update): Water agencies, stakeholder groups, and elected officials react to the release of the biological opinions

Today, the Trump Administration released the long-awaited biological opinions.  Here’s what water agencies and stakeholder groups have to say:

(Note: I will continue to add to this post as additional statements come in … )

From California’s Democratic delegation:

Congressmen John Garamendi (D-CA03), Josh Harder (D-CA10), Jim Costa (D-CA16), and TJ Cox (D-CA21) and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) released the following statement on the updated biological opinions for federally protected fish species and coordinated operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project:

“The Endangered Species Act requires periodic reviews to determine the best available science. The federal government’s science for Chinook salmon and Delta smelt was more than a decade old and needed to be updated, especially given climate change. We are examining the new biological opinions to ensure they incorporate the adaptive management and real-time monitoring needed to properly manage the Central Valley Project for the benefit of all Californians. The new biological opinions must also provide the scientific basis needed to finalize the voluntary settlement agreements between the State Water Resources Control Board and water users. We look forward to the State of California’s thoughtful analysis of the biological opinions. In Congress, we continue working to secure federal investment in the Central Valley Project to meet California’s future water needs and support habitat restoration efforts called for in the updated biological opinions.”

From California’s Republican delegation:

Today, Congressman Kevin McCarthy (CA-23), Congressman Devin Nunes (CA-22), Congressman Ken Calvert (CA-42), Congressman Tom McClintock (CA-04), Congressman Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), Congressman Paul Cook (CA-08), and Congressman Duncan Hunter (CA-50) released the following joint statement after the announcement of new biological opinions finalized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding the operation of the Federal Central Valley Project (CVP) and the California State Water Project (SWP):

“For years, communities across California have been denied water, while protected fish species have also struggled due to decade-old regulations based on even older science and data. Yesterday’s actions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to replace these failed regulations with new biological opinions based on the latest science and data is a welcome step in the right direction. It is our hope that the implementation of these new regulations will bring better protections for listed fish species and the environment, as well as increased flexibility regarding CVP and SWP operations to help ensure our constituents receive the water they are entitled to or contract and pay for.”

From House Natural Resources Chair Raúl M. Grijalva and Chair of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Jared Huffman:

Today, House Natural Resources Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Chair of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) released the following statements regarding the Trump administration’s proposal to increase water deliveries through the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) by weakening longstanding protections for endangered species in the ecologically fragile San Francisco Bay Delta.

Even by the low standards of this administration, the corruption and political ham-handedness reflected in the proposed Biological Opinion for CVP operations is stunning. Just three months ago, scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) concluded that the administration’s scheme to divert more water from the Bay-Delta estuary to politically-connected irrigation interests like the Westlands Water District would raise the risk of extinction for endangered and threatened fish species. Rather than let science and species protection guide this decision, as the Endangered Species Act requires, President Trump’s political appointees ordered an intervention. A new team swooped in, took over the process, and quickly found a way to reach the opposite result. Now, even though NMFS scientists found that the water diversion plan would jeopardize key species, and the State Water Resources Control Board found there is insufficient Bay-Delta outflow to protect salmon and other wildlife, the re-worked Biological Opinion concludes that delivering massive amounts of additional water to Westlands – a lucrative former client of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt – is just fine for endangered fish.

“The environmental rollbacks announced today are a major giveaway to Secretary Bernhardt’s former clients and other special interests,” said Chair Grijalva. “Given the numerous public reports of improper political influence affecting today’s decision, the Committee intends to fully exercise its constitutional oversight duties and investigate whether the law was followed.”

“The Trump administration’s ‘favor factory’ is at it again, weakening Endangered Species Act protections in order to maximize water deliveries to Secretary’s Bernhardt’s former clients,” said Representative Huffman. “Federal scientists warned that these pumping increases could doom California’s endangered salmon runs to extinction. Instead of listening to them and fixing the flawed pumping plan, the Trump administration replaced them with a new team that did scientific cartwheels to give Westlands what they wanted.  The career officials who succumbed to political pressure and participated in reversing the original jeopardy finding should be ashamed of themselves.  Beyond the stench of transactional corruption, this sham process is a recipe for extinction – for our iconic salmon runs, and for the fishing industry, tribes and communities who depend on salmon.”

From the California Farm Bureau Federation:

New biological opinions for fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta open the way toward additional flexibility in the California water system, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation. CFBF President Jamie Johansson said the opinions released today by federal fisheries agencies enhance prior protection for fish while adjusting operation of water projects to improve water supplies.

“Everyone wants to see endangered fish recover,” Johansson said. “But the methods of the past haven’t worked. Doubling down on those failed methods would make no sense. It’s time to try something new, and we’re satisfied that the career scientists at the federal agencies have taken the time they need to create well thought-out plans that reflect advances in knowledge acquired during the past 10 years.”

Johansson said the biological opinions can lead to progress in restoring balance to California water management.

“We expect these new biological opinions to approach fishery recovery through a variety of tactics, including habitat restoration, improved science, and flexibility in dedicating enough water at the right time to maximize fishery benefits and improve water deliveries to people,” he said.

“Narrow solutions based only on water flow mandates have failed to restore fisheries, at great loss of water for people. Water used for environmental purposes should be analyzed for efficiency, just as people are when they water their lawns, run their dishwashers or irrigate their crops,” Johansson said.

“Californians face a challenging water future as we seesaw between extreme drought and flood, incorporate new restrictions on groundwater and work to accommodate a growing population while enhancing the environment and sustaining agricultural production,” he said. “We hope these new biological opinions will move California toward those goals, and that state and federal leaders will work together in pursuing them.”

From the California Farm Water Coalition:

The release of the new Biological Opinions on salmon, Delta smelt and other species is good news for water users and the environment. Moving from an approach that used a calendar to make ecosystem decisions to one that uses the latest science is the smart way to provide better protection for California’s resources. New, more efficient protections for threatened and endangered fish are essential to being able to manage our water supply system in a way that optimizes it for farmers, urban water users, and dedicated environmental purposes.

The new Biological Opinions will play a critical role in helping implement Governor Gavin Newsom’s Voluntary Agreements, a process underway in California that will provide more water for environmental purposes, funds to pay for habitat improvement projects, and flexibility for water users who depend on reliable water supplies to grow our food.

This announcement is the culmination of more than 10 years of work to research better ways to understand and protect the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The biological opinions being replaced were based on an arbitrary, calendar-based approach, and have not delivered the successful recovery of salmon and Delta smelt populations. The new biological opinions also address threats to certain steelhead, green sturgeon, and killer whales, species cited as casualties in the outdated form of ecosystem management.

The new Biological Opinions mean that for farms, fish, and people, this is the dawn of a new science-based approach to water and ecosystem management. We are anxious to put these new policies into practice and expect to see a positive response for water users and the environment in the years to come.

From Food and Water Watch:

In response to the Trump Administration’s decision to weaken protections for the Delta smelt, allowing water to be diverted from the San Francisco Bay Delta to large agricultural operations inland, Food & Water Action California State Director Alexandra Nagy, issued the following statement:

“It is not surprising that California Big Ag has found a friend in the Trump administration when, until recently, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was lobbying on behalf of these rich and powerful agricultural interests. Without an Interior Department willing to do its job, the ball is now squarely in Gov. Newsom’s court to resist efforts to compromise the Delta’s vital and delicate ecosystem and Californian’s right to water.

“Delta-area family’s water bills will increase as the cost of treating drinking water spikes and we will see more harmful algal blooms, if the Delta is drained. The Interior Department’s assault on the environment cannot become part of California Policy. Gov. Newsom’s decision to veto SB1, which would have protected California from precisely this type of action by the Trump administration, is all the more shameful because it left the Delta vulnerable. The governor should reverse that fatal mistake now by stepping up and protecting Californian’s water and the environment by challenging this and any other  rollbacks.”

From the Golden State Salmon Association:

The Trump administration, under former Westlands Water District lobbyist and now Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, released a doctored set of rules allowing much greater water diversions to its supporters in the dry western San Joaquin Valley.  The new rules ensure great damage to California’s environment, especially to the state’s native salmon runs and the family jobs tied to them.  The new rules could go into effect late this winter or early spring of 2020 and are sure to make worse pollution and ecosystem health problems in SF Bay and the Delta.

The Trump administration’s new rules conclude that operation of the massive system of dams, canals, and pumps that capture water from northern California salmon rivers and channel and divert it to the western San Joaquin pose no jeopardy to endangered and threatened wildlife, including salmon.  This directly contradicts a previous jeopardy finding made by the National Marine Fisheries Service in July.  The scientists who wrote that July document were reassigned and prevented from working on the documents released today.  No one disputes the new rules are the Trump administration’s attempt to make good on a promise to growers in the San Joaquin Valley to maximize water diversions to them, no matter the environmental and economic consequences to others.

“This decision weakens all of the existing federal rules to protect Bay-Delta salmon runs.  We’ve seen this movie before. In 2004 federal salmon biologists found that operating this massive water diversion project jeopardized various native species, including the salmon our jobs and communities depend on, that are supposed to be protected,” said John McManus, president of the Golden State Salmon Association. “The Bush Cheney administration stepped in and overruled and reversed those findings which led to catastrophic water diversions that killed untold millions of salmon and shut down our industry entirely in 2008 and 2009.  It looks like this administration is trying to shut us down again – permanently.”

The increased water diversions mean much less water will flow through the Delta to SF Bay in the future.  This will occur even though the State Water Resources Control Board has found there’s already insufficient Delta outflow to protect salmon, other wildlife, and the Bay.   A lack of water due to over-diversion of Central Valley rivers also regularly causes outbreaks of toxic blue green algae in stagnant, polluted, Delta waters.

The new weaker rules also take a hands off approach to the question of enforcement, leaving it up to Bureau of Reclamation and state Dept. of Water Resources to police themselves and decide when or if water diversions should be scaled back to avoid additional extinctions. Gone is the oversight and enforcement functions the US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service formerly had, replaced by an honor system that places control in the hands of agencies that have not earned trust.

Gone too are protections that required the Bureau of Reclamation to leave a sensible volume of water in Lake Shasta at the end of the year to ensure adequate cold water for salmon and water supplies in case of future droughts.

So far, Governor Newsom hasn’t said what, if anything, he’ll do to protect the state’s salmon, other wildlife, and salmon fishing jobs from this decision to slash federal protections.  Nor has he said a word about the looming damage to the coastal and inland communities, families, and economies that depend on salmon.  Newsom recently vetoed Senate Bill 1, which would have given him strong tools to deal with this development and retain existing protections for fish and wildlife.

Click here to continue reading.

“Fishing and conservation advocates across the state are watching closely to see if Governor Newsom stands up for California in the face of yet another Trump administration assault on our environment and on salmon fishing jobs,” said GSSA’s McManus.

The Golden State Salmon Association (www.goldenstatesalmon.org) is a coalition of salmon advocates that includes commercial and recreational salmon fisherman, businesses, restaurants and chefs, a native tribe, environmentalists, elected officials, families and communities that rely on salmon.

GSSA’s mission is to restore California salmon for their economic, recreational, commercial, environmental, cultural and health values.

Currently, California’s salmon industry is valued at $1.4 billion in annual economic activity in a normal season. The industry employs tens of thousands of people from Santa Barbara to northern Oregon. This is a huge economic bloc made up of commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen (fresh and salt water), fish processors, marinas, coastal communities, equipment manufacturers, tackle shops and marine stores, the hotel and food industry, tribes, and the salmon fishing industry at large.  Salmon are the keystone species that reflect the health of both their fresh and salt water environment.
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From the Kern County Water Agency:

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released biological opinions that set the rules for operation of California’s two largest water systems, the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project.  Both water systems deliver water into Kern County.

The Kern County Water Agency (Agency) appreciates the work of congressman Kevin McCarthy and former congressman David Valadao whose efforts resulted in a presidential memorandum directing the FWS and the NMFS to complete the biological opinions.  Writing the biological opinions is a highly scientific process that began in August 2016 but which was proceeding slowly.  The presidential memorandum accelerated that process bringing it to conclusion with the issuance of the opinions today.

“The biological opinions set the rules for how much water is available to Kern County from the State Water Project.  Those rules are now a decade old and needed to be updated using new scientific data developed over the last 10 years,” said Ted Page, President of the Kern County Water Agency Board of Directors.

The opinions take a new approach to protecting fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta by looking at what fish need based on state-of-the-art, real-time monitoring, and targeting water supplies to meet those needs.  Focusing on what the fish need is expected to be an improvement over past efforts to protect fish which set specific calendar dates for water releases that may or may not coincide with periods when Delta fish species need additional water.  “This new approach is expected to provide better protection for fish while improving water supply reliability for Californians,” said Page.

Agency staff are reviewing the opinions to determine the effect they will have on the county’s water supply.  In addition to the federal biological opinions, the State Water Project needs a State permit from the Department of Fish and Wildlife.  The State permit is being developed this fall with the current permit expiring at the end of the year.  “For California’s water system to work the rules for the biological opinions and the State permit must be compatible.  The Agency is ready to help the State in any way necessary to get the State permit done this year,” said Page.

From the Metropolitan Water District:

Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, issues the following statement on the release of new federal biological opinions to manage the operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project:

“It is beyond time to update these guidelines from those that were developed over a decade ago. These opinions advance the much-needed approach of managing the Delta based on real-time conditions and real-time monitoring of important fish species. Undoubtedly there are times when fish need greater protections, and pumping must be reduced, in order to protect the species in key migratory moments. There are also times when public water agencies can safely divert supplies when the populations are out of harm’s way. While this creates some uncertainty about our future supplies, it is without question a better approach.

“The state’s work to develop its own set of water management tools under a permitting process via the State Endangered Species Act must be completed as expeditiously as possible to avoid management confusion in the Delta. The state and federal projects must operate in a coordinated manner. We hope to work constructively with both the state and federal administrations to harmonize future Delta operations as much as possible.”

From Doug Obegi at the Natural Resources Defense Council:

October 22 the Trump Administration is expected to release new Endangered Species Act permits, known as biological opinions, that are almost certain to significantly weaken and/or eliminate existing federal protections for salmon and other endangered species in California’s Bay-Delta watershed. The Trump Administration is rolling back these federal protections for the stated purpose of “maximizing water deliveries” to agribusinesses and other water districts served by the federal Central Valley Project and State Water Project.

These biological opinions are the end result of several years of political interference by a federal administration intent on dismantling the protections required by existing biological opinions, led by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist and counsel for the Westlands Water District, the largest water district in the Central Valley.  When he represented Westlands, Bernhardt sued to overturn the existing protections through litigation and lobbied Congress to preempt or overturn their requirements, but he failed (the biological opinions were upheld by the courts). Now that Trump appointed him to the Department of the Interior, he has spent the past two years scheming to overturn these protections, personally involved in matters that would reward his former clients with increased water diversions from our imperiled estuary.

We expect the Trump Administration will conclude that weakening or eliminating most of the protections required in the 2008 and 2009 biological opinions will not jeopardize endangered and threatened species. When career scientists with the National Marine Fisheries Service concluded on July 1, 2019 that the proposed project would jeopardize endangered salmon and violate the Endangered Species Act, the Trump Administration simply removed those scientists and set to work rewriting their biological opinion to greenlight the Trump Administration’s proposal.

Click here to continue reading.

From the Northern California Power Agency:

“With the release of the biological opinions, NCPA looks forward to engaging in-depth with USBR to  explore opportunities to increase the operational flexibility of the CVP so that the timing of power generation complements changing hydrological conditions and best positions the resource to support increased renewable energy and state carbon neutrality goals,” said NCPA General Manager Randy S. Howard.

NCPA members collectively receive 41% of the hydropower generation from the Central Valley Project. About NCPA: Headquartered in Roseville, California, NCPA is a nonprofit California joint powers agency established in 1968 to construct and operate renewable and low-emitting generating facilities and assist in meeting the wholesale energy needs of its 16 members: the Cities of Alameda, Biggs, Gridley, Healdsburg, Lodi, Lompoc, Palo Alto, Redding, Roseville, Santa Clara, Shasta Lake, and Ukiah, Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative, Port of Oakland, San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), and Truckee Donner Public Utility District—collectively serving nearly 700,000 electric consumers in Central and Northern California.

From the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations:

“The servile Interior Department has hijacked and subverted the scientific process,” said Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “Fishing jobs are being sacrificed to benefit the corporate agriculture lobby, pure and simple. If the Newsom Administration fails to fight this flawed water plan, the next drought may very well wipe California salmon off the map.”

From Restore the Delta:

Today, the Trump Administration released a set of new Endangered Species Act permits (biological opinions) that will significantly weaken existing federal protections for salmon and other endangered species in California’s Bay-Delta watershed. These biological opinions determine the long-term operation of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project and set the allowed levels for water exports to Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley.

Tim Stroshane, policy analyst for Restore the Delta said:

“While there’s still much to review in these opinions, we see immediately that the Trump Administration intends to follow through on its promise to maximize exports from the Delta to San Joaquin valley agribusiness and southern California. These opinions however have the smell of manipulated science, an Orwellian finding that ‘fish don’t need water.’”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta said:

“If the Trump plan is implemented, Delta water quality will degrade and residents will use its waters for fishing and recreation, less. Stockton’s costs for treating its drinking water will rise as will residents’ water rates, and the public health will be impacted due to increased harmful algal blooms. We are calling on the Newsom Administration to help fight these faux-science based opinions and to stop the Trump plan to increase water deliveries to big water districts. These rollbacks cannot become part of the Newsom Administration’s ‘voluntary agreement’ process for the Delta.”

While we will be conducting an in-depth reading of the new biological opinions in the days ahead, we can see that they fail to protect Delta communities and fisheries because:

  • They allow for increased exports in summer and autumn creating conditions for the proliferation of harmful algal blooms (HABS) which are a public health threat
  • ESA protections are tied to water quality in the Delta; (Bay-Delta flow standards have not been permanently set by the State Water Resources Control Board)
  • They are not calendar based
  • They do not protect salmon and smelt unless fish show up at the pumps; they are reactive not protective of species in serious decline
  • They allow for hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of additional water exports from the Bay-Delta and play games with carry-over storage
Click here to continue reading.

BACKGROUND

For decades, the SF Bay-Delta has been in a state of permanent drought. The amount of water flowing through the estuary is not enough to keep the ecosystem healthy. The 2019 “State of the Estuary” was released this week by the San Francisco Estuary Partnership highlights this ongoing problem.

Caitlin Sweeney the executive director of the Estuary Partnership told the Marin Independent-Journal, “I think where we are not seeing the same kinds of positive results that are the areas such as freshwater flowing into the estuary; the idea that we need a certain amount of freshwater coming from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers for example flowing into our estuary in order for the estuary to survive and all of the animals that depend on it.”

Political Science or Biology?

For two years, the Trump Administration has been clear about their goal of “maximizing water deliveries” to agribusinesses and other water districts served by the federal Central Valley Project and State Water Project. The process has been led by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist and counsel for the Westlands Water District, the largest water district in the Central Valley.

Today’s BiOps replace 2008 fish and 2009 orcas biological opinions that were to be in effect for 20 years.The new BiOps are the result of a reconsultation process triggered in 2016 by CA Department of Water Resources and the US Bureau of Reclamation.

To meet the president’s timeline, scientists at NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had to work at an unprecedented pace, cutting back the independent scientific review, and eliminating the public process.

On July 1, 2019, a group of career scientists with the National Marine Fisheries Service warned that the proposed project would jeopardize endangered salmon and violate the Endangered Species Act. The Trump Administration responded by removing those scientists and replacing them and a news staff began rewriting their biological opinion to greenlight the Trump Administration’s proposal.

They wrote that the plan posed risks to the threatened fish. They also said they did not have enough information to provide a thorough scientific review and that the process was being rushed by the Trump Administration to downplay the environmental impacts.

From the Southern California Water Coalition:

SCWC Executive Director Charles Wilson released the following statement on this latest news for key sources of water supply for the state.
California and the federal government need to modernize both the water system in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and how it is operated on a day-to-day basis. The release of new biological opinions by federal agencies today updates the management for both the Central Valley Project and State Water Project under the federal Endangered Species Act.
While the state Department of Fish and Wildlife has yet to produce its new permit to operate the State Water Project to comply with the State Endangered Species Act, we expect management and diversion decisions to increasingly be made on a real-time basis based on state-of-the-art monitoring of endangered fish species. We believe that this is a sound approach overall when possible and urge the two administrations to work closely and collaboratively so that operations of the two projects can be harmonized as much as possible.
From Western Growers Association:

In response to the federal government’s new plan that will guide the coordinated operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project in California, Western Growers President & CEO Tom Nassif issued the following statement:

“We are encouraged by the federal government’s willingness to expedite revisions of the biological opinions that have governed water project operations in much of California for the last decade. Those rules – intended to recover threatened and endangered fish populations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta – have caused serious and lasting economic and social damage to hundreds of communities without producing the desired results.

“The proposed revisions introduce a refreshing new commitment to flexible management based on real-time data, allowing water deliveries when protected fish species are not in danger and restricting deliveries when they are. This is a common sense improvement over the status quo in which water managers’ hands are tied by inflexible calendar-based rules that ignore real-time changing conditions in the Delta. Other elements of the revised biological opinions similarly reflect the benefit of updated research and experience.

“Those who immediately condemn these revisions because they may help farm communities or cities are attempting to distract from the failure of the current regulatory regime. We suggest that protecting the status quo by any means is equivalent to consigning the endangered fish species to extinction while simultaneously extinguishing the economic future of thousands of communities. The status quo has failed; change, based on new research and practical experience, is desperately needed.

“The Newsom Administration has made thoughtful commitments to environmental protection and better water resource management through Voluntary Agreements between the State Water Board and the communities that depend on the watersheds of the Delta. It is imperative that this proposal be analyzed in the same thoughtful manner, that is, on its merits and as part of the larger Voluntary Agreement construct.”

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