Aerial view looking South along White Slough, in the foreground is Terminous Tract, part of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in San Joaquin County, California. Photo taken March 08, 2019.
Ken James / California Department of Water Resources, FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY
THIS JUST IN … Biological opinions for long-term operations of the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project released
Paul Souza (USGWS), Barry Thom (NOAA Fisheries) and Ernest Conant (Reclamation) discuss the new biological opinions in a press call
The long awaited biological opinions have been released. Earlier this morning, Paul Souza, Regional Director for the US Fish and Wildlife Service; Barry Thom, NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator; and Ernest Conant, Director of the Mid Pacific Region of the Bureau of Reclamation hosted a media call to discuss the new biological opinions.
“Back in August of 2016 the Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources jointly requested the reinitiation of Endangered Species Act consultation,” said Erin Curtis, Assistant Regional Director, External Affairs for US Fish and Wildlife Service. “The Fish and Wildlife Service accepted the reinitiation request on August 3rd of 2016. The purpose of this call this morning is to provide information regarding the release of the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Services biological opinion. As a result of that consultation, each regional director will provide a brief statement.”
PAUL SOUZA, Regional Director for US Fish and Wildlife Service
“We’re here to announce the completion of the two federal agency biological opinions on this project. There is one from my agency, the U S Fish and Wildlife Service, and another from our counterpart, the National Marine Fisheries service. I really want to thank all of our teams for their unbelievable work over the past several months. They’ve just done a terrific job and all three of our organizations in concert with the Department of Water Resources and the state of California have been working to negotiate protections for fish. We have worked hard to protect our fisheries and also find flexibility for water supply compatible with fish protection.
We know that water is the lifeblood of the environment in California. These two projects also provide water for 25 million Californians, including some of the richest farmland anywhere in the world. They provide water for some of our greatest cities like Los Angeles. These biological opinions and the Bureau of Reclamation’s proposed actions reflect our collective efforts to protect our fish and meet the needs of these 25 million Californians.
We know that fish get the headlines a lot, but it’s important to recognize these projects provide water for other important parts of the environment such as our national wildlife refuges and our wetlands. These are critically important for migratory birds. Together the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, and with the Department of Water Resources help have made significant improvements for fisheries since the original proposed action from the Bureau of Reclamation. I’d like to highlight several of them today.
It’s important to know that the final proposed action was just accomplished last week, so we’ve been in real time negotiations from many, many months seeking to make sure we’ve got appropriate protections in place for fisheries. As a result, both of our organizations were able to reach no jeopardy and no adverse modification conclusions.
Now turning to some of the important modifications, I’ll start with Delta operations. This has long been a cause for concern about fish being pulled into the pumps and also restrictions on pumping for water supply. We’ve been able to create a much smarter approach that focuses on real time management. We have tremendous new science now that we didn’t have a decade ago. For example, we have an important effort called the enhanced Delta smelt monitoring program. We’ve got boats on the water several times a week. We know that the fish are in an area by the pumps and Reclamation has agreed to curtail pumping in that event. We also have more than 10 years of information about salmon being addressed by the pumps and Reclamation has agreed to pumping restrictions. If we see a cause for concern, our collective goal is to ensure that this operation is as or more protective as the last 10 years.
Moving to Lake Shasta, cold water management is extraordinarily important for winter run spawning Chinook. We have the Bureau of Reclamation’s agreement to take actions that would hold Lake Shasta higher on average on May 1st – a greater cold water pool than we have in the last 10 years. We have a science based process where our team would get together and advise Reclamation on how to make best use of that cold water. Again, they’ll have more cold water to support winter run spawning than we did in the last 10 years.
We also have made investments to expand the geographic distribution of salmon. For the last two years we’ve conducted a reintroduction effort of salmon to Battle Creek, which is a tributary of the Sacramento River. Reclamation, has agreed to $14 million of additional investment over the next 10 years. That will allow us to complete that work. We’re seeing this come back already. We think we’re going to see a lot more next year and this is going to allow us to expand the geographic distribution in a very significant way.
We recognize that Delta smelts are extraordinarily rare. A couple of years ago we convened the scientific forum to talk about the need for additional captive propagation and there’s universal consensus in the scientific community of the need to expand our Delta smelt captive propagation. Reclamation has agreed to a significant investment with the state of California in a conservation hatchery that will allow us to grow hundreds of thousands of fish per year and then conduct experiments to get them back into the Delta and hopefully recover this important species.
We also have a commitment to science that’s clear and throughout the proposed action. In years four and eight of the 10 year plan, Reclamation agreed to conduct an independent scientific review of all operations so that we can take stock of our progress and also improve if there are changes that are necessary. There are several other independent peer review requirements as well throughout the document where there are causes for concern.
I’d like to put these biological opinions in context. We provide these opinions to Reclamation. Reclamation now will use them as it conducts its National Environmental Policy Act review. We expect that to be completed in January. The state of California has separate and important requirements for environmental review. They intend to have a public process that we’ll be doing soon in that regard and we stand prepared to help the state in whatever ways that we can as it moves forward.
Finally, I’ll make the point that we continue to support the voluntary settlement agreements. We appreciate the state’s leadership in that regard and if those could come to fruition, we would see another significant investment in conservation in California.
BARRY THOM, NOAA Fisheries Regional Director
First of all, I want to thank the Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of Water Resources for working with us over the past nine months since they gave us a proposed action, and the innumerable questions and comments, and working through the proposed actions so that we better understood the effects as well as being able to make changes to that proposed action as we worked through that consultation effort. I also want to thank our NOAA fishery staff. We’ve put a tremendous amount of staff resources into this consultation – probably more than any other consultation I know I’ve been involved with. There were a lot of strict timelines and resources and staff time and people sacrificed a lot to get to where we are today and I just want to commend that effort.
It has been an amazing effort overall as NOAA fisheries worked through the consultation. While there are many projects and effects that we have looked at as we went through the consultation, there were four main areas where we had been focused on. Paul mentioned a couple of those, both the operation of Shasta reservoir and water temperature management focused on winter run Chinook salmon in the system, the Delta pumping piece and a couple of others. The Bureau of Reclamation has highlighted areas where they have made changes to help address some of those risks. We identified that the temperature management is a key component. The Bureau has agreed to improve temperature management especially in the good water years to help protect winter run salmon similar to the, the good runs we’re having right now that had been protected by good adequate water temperature. They also have in the dry and drought year times both non flow and flow actions that they’ll take in those years to help mitigate and offset some of that risk.
When it comes to pumping in the Delta, that has been a concern. BOR has committed to keep the pumping and fish impacts in the Delta at or below the levels we saw in the previous biological opinion. They have also committed to increased steelhead monitoring for fish coming out of the San Joaquin. That’s been a critical area for our work and looking at its steelhead coming out of the San Joaquin River and how we can better protect those fish moving forward. Couple of other areas like operation of the Delta, cross channel Gates and looking at how their real-time management would be consistent with what we previously saw for protections as well as low winter flows in the Sacramento river.
There is a tradeoff in having to hold back flows to make sure we have adequate flows for winter run, spawning and incubation; at the same time that potentially has impacts in the fall and winter for flows. Looking at the modeling, they were able to assure us that those was what stayed the same or better than what they were in the previous biological opinion. They’ve also highlighted some habitat restoration and other activities to help offset some of those effects as well.
So as we worked through that, the National Marine Fisheries Service was able to come to a conclusion that the proposed action as we worked through this entire consultation would not jeopardize the species under NOAA Fisheries jurisdiction. Moving forward, we recognize there are effects from the project, but that the Bureau has put forth those safeguards to minimize and constrain those impacts over the life of the opinion.
ERNEST CONANT, Regional Director of the Mid-Pacific Region of the Bureau of Reclamation
As you know, Reclamation operates the Central Valley Project and the California Department of Water Resources operates the state water project combined. The two projects provide water to over 25 million Californians and millions of acres of some of the most productive farmland in the world. These projects also helped support important commercial and recreational fisheries, wildlife refuges, and significant recreational opportunities and ensure that many rare and unique species have adequate available water.
For the past 10 years, the CVP and SWP have operated to standards outlined in a set of 2008 and 2009 biological opinions. A lot has changed in a decade. The state, Reclamation and our respective contractors have invested significant resources to advance the science and technology used to inform our operations and the impacts that they may have on species. In January, we released a proposed action infused with new scientific information and asked Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to provide their opinions on the proposed operation. The three agencies in cooperation with DWR have worked tirelessly over the last few months to adapt Reclamation’s proposed operations in a way that strikes that balance between providing water for farms and communities and protecting the environment. They went through unprecedented collaboration in the scientific review.
We have a plan that is much better for fish, farms, and communities than our current operations. The proposed plan includes an estimated $1.5 billion investment to support endangered fish over the next 10 years. It Includes operations that will yield bigger cold water pool and better cold water management at our largest reservoir at Shasta near Redding. It includes smarter Delta operations through real time adaptive management to greater management oversight of Delta pumping operations informed by updated science. It calls for significant investments in hatcheries to include approximately $50 million for a conservation hatchery in the Delta to assist in the recovery of Delta smelt and other species.
It includes a $14 million investment by Reclamation that will accelerate work underway at battle Creek and the program to reintroduce winter run salmon and the Sacramento river and its tributaries. It will include the commitment to use the newest science and latest scientific thinking to ensure Reclamation’s updated operations are benefiting fish.
On behalf of Reclamation, I want to express my appreciation to Paul and Barry for their leadership and the hard work undertaken these last few months by our multiple disciplinary multiple agency team of experts. Today, we have a proposed operation that is better for the environment and better for farms and communities.”