Aerial view looking north along Old River in the center is Fay Island, left top is Palm Tract, left bottom is Orwood Tract, bottom is Woodward Island and top right is Bacon island all 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 … Golden State Salmon Association and allies seek injunction to stop implementation of new biological opinions
GSSA and allied groups have asked a federal court to immediately block a new Trump water diversion and pumping plan because of the imminent harm it threatens salmon with. The groups filed a motion for preliminary injunction on March 5.
The Trump plan calls for boosting water diversions from salmon rivers in northern California and the Delta by 600,000 to 1 million acre feet at a time when the state and multiple scientific agencies have documented the need to reduce such diversions and leave more water in the rivers to maintain salmon and other native wildlife.
The fishing and conservation groups presented evidence to the court that the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service have previously found that the protected fish populations have been precipitously declining; that federal water project operations have significant, adverse effects on these imperiled populations; and that existing protections need to be increased to avoid further jeopardizing the species. After all of that, the federal fish and wildlife agencies capriciously state the new water diversion and pumping rules are “not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of habitat of such species.”
“There are federal laws which forbid federal agencies from taking actions deemed arbitrary and capricious,” said John McManus, president of the Golden State Salmon Association. “We need the court to act quickly to protect the jobs and communities in California that are dependent on salmon.”
Of special interest to the salmon industry, NMFS admits that the federal water rules will result in reductions in the survival and productivity of all CV (Central Valley) Chinook salmon populations (including fall-run and late fall-run Chinook salmon).
The motion filed by the fishing and conservation groups says, “In short, NMFS’s no jeopardy conclusion is irreconcilable with its findings regarding the imperiled state of the Chinook salmon species and the Central Valley steelhead, as well as the abundant evidence that even the protections that existed under the prior 2009 Biological Opinion were not adequate to provide the conditions needed to prevent extinction. A species on the brink of extinction will be further jeopardized by additional reductions in survival and productivity.”
The fishing and conservation groups argue the federal plan will place some fish species at significant risk of extinction as soon as the coming year and therefore immediate action to stop it is needed.
Before the Trump administration, all federal and state agencies were in agreement that salmon and other endangered and threatened wildlife in the Central Valley needed more, not less, protections. Then the Trump administration suddenly reversed this agreement for no biologic, scientific, or legal reason.
“The reason is clear,” said GSSA Secretary Dick Pool. “In spite of violating the law and killing off our salmon runs, the federal government is trying to drain northern California’s salmon rivers in order to transfer water to its supporters in the dry western San Joaquin Valley. This is raw, brute politics at its absolute worst.”
The groups demonstrate that so-called protections the Trump administration claims exist in the new plan are neither required nor enforceable.
Until recently, NMFS required the federal Bureau of Reclamation to keep Lake Shasta from being overly drained in order to protect the cold water at the bottom of the lake so it could be released to protect incubating salmon eggs. NMFS said as recently as last July that Reclamation’s new operations would jeopardize listed salmonids, and identified the need for significantly stronger limits on temperature mortality below Shasta Dam. However, the new Trump rules abandon this requirement and in fact allow temperatures to warm to lethal levels three years in a row before water managers have to do anything about it.
“We could be looking at massive losses of salmon as soon as this summer if the upper Sacramento River spawning beds overheat which is allowed by this federal water plan we seek to stop,” said GSSA vice chairman Mike Aughney. “The Trump salmon extinction rules are no joke. They are a dagger pointed at the heart of the salmon industry. Thousands of jobs are hanging in the balance.”
When it comes to cranking up the Delta pumps (which are deadly to salmon), the fishing and conservation groups document prior instances where NMFS previously determined more, not less, protections from pumping were necessary to keep fish from being killed.The groups further document that federal water managers have previously received drought waivers that allowed them not comply with river and delta flow requirements and limits on pumping.
Although much of the legal arguments revolve around the federal government’s obligation to protect winter run salmon, those protections provide some benefit to all salmon, including the fall run salmon that supply the ocean and inland fishery. The Trump rules try to substitute water temperature controls timed to winter run spawning for those needed by protected spring run salmon. Winter run spawn in summer whereas spring run spawn later, overlapping with fall run spawning beginning in the early fall. Any eventual extension of rules requiring cold water be maintained until later in the year will be a major boost for fall run.
The other groups joining GSSA are Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Bay Institute, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and Institute for Fisheries Research. Legal representation is being provided pro bono by Altshuler Berzon LLP.
Major agriculture and water districts have moved to join the lawsuit on the side of the Trump administration. The court is expected to hear and decide this motion sometime this spring.
About GSSA: The Golden State Salmon Association (www.goldenstatesalmon.org) is a coalition of salmon advocates that includes commercial and recreational salmon fishermen and women, businesses, restaurants, 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 economic activity and 23,000 jobs annually in a normal season and about half that much in economic activity and jobs again in Oregon. Industry workers benefiting from Central Valley salmon stretch from Santa Barbara to northern Oregon. This includes commercial fishermen and women, recreational fishermen and women (fresh and salt water), fish processors, marinas, coastal communities, equipment manufacturers, the hotel and food industry, tribes, and others.