C-WIN: Even With Full Reservoirs, SF Bay Sturgeon Are Dying Again. Why?

San Francisco Bay Catastrophes Are Due to Super Moons and Water Policy, Says Fisheries Expert

Press release from the California Water Impact Network

Sturgeon are dying again in San Francisco Bay, a result of oxygen depletion and toxic “red tide” algae. A similar event occurred last summer, and state officials claim that climate change is the prime mover of both events. But Tom Cannon, one of California’s most experienced fisheries biologists, maintains the real answers are super moon lunar cycles and a water management policy that prioritizes deliveries over environmental health.

San Francisco Bay sturgeon need releases from Shasta Reservoir on the Sacramento River to create the cool, clean, brackish conditions in the Bay/Delta estuary essential for their survival.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Cannon, who has consulted extensively for state and federal regulatory agencies. “Unlike 2022, Shasta is now full. The water contractors are getting everything they want and more. Every almond and pomegranate tree in the Central Valley is just sopping with water. There’s enough water for the salmon. Enough for the sturgeon. They’re just not getting it.”

Cannon agreed that climate change is affecting fisheries worldwide, “but what’s happening in San Francisco Bay can be attributed to a specific chain of events and specific policies.”

Cannon observed that super moons are two-week lunar cycles characterized by extreme tides. There are two in August, with the first widely known as the “Sturgeon Moon.”

“Which is both prophetic and dire, given what happened,” Cannon said. “Basically, we had a Delta brimming with slowly-moving water that was nutrient-laden, anoxic [low in oxygen] and very warm – 75° F. The Sturgeon Moon’s neap tide – the minimal tide after the first quarter moon – occurred on July 24th. At that point, the Delta essentially emptied into the Bay. And all that warm water then sat in the Bay for the next two weeks, not moving much, with lots of nutrients and sunshine. And then we see the red tide and the fish dying.”

Last year’s red tide occurred under similar circumstances, but there was a major differentiating factor: 2022 was a drought year.

“The agencies that control California’s water – the State Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation – could make a legitimate case that there simply wasn’t the water available in the reservoirs to maintain enough flow to keep the rivers and the Delta cool and healthy,” said Cannon. “But 2023 was the opposite. We’re coming off one of the wettest years on record. There’s plenty of water for the rivers, the Delta, and the fish.”

But the agencies apparently don’t see it that way. Cannon observed the massive state and federal pumps near Tracy are sending tremendous volumes of water south from the Delta – about 11,000 cubic feet a second, a veritable Colorado River constrained by concrete. Meanwhile, the current volume released for through-Delta flows during the spring tides of the super moons is only about 2,000 cfs.

“It wouldn’t have taken a lot of water to avoid what happened,” Cannon said. “The Lower Sacramento River, which connects to the Delta, is now 75° F. Simply meeting the State Water Resources Control Board’s temperature standard of 68°F for the Lower Sacramento River and Delta would have cooled things down enough to help protect the fish. That would mean releasing an extra 3,000-5,000 cfs from Shasta Dam, which is virtually nothing in terms of the available supply.”

Cannon said the agencies insist they’re “saving” Shasta’s cold water for endangered salmon. But such claims don’t hold up under scrutiny, particularly under current circumstances.

“You can hardly characterize your actions as thrifty when you’re lavishing agricultural contractors with more water than they need,” he said.

There’s one more super moon in August, and the Delta is heating up again. Cannon notes that water temperatures recently seem to be moderating, though – a sign that the agencies, alarmed by the bad publicity, may be releasing a bit more water in a bid to avoid a disastrous reprise. But that may not matter for the white sturgeon, an iconic species for San Francisco Bay.

“Sturgeon are slow growing and slow to reproduce,” Cannon said. “There were maybe 10,000 sturgeon in the estuary before these events. The total population is certainly a fraction of that now. The Bay’s sturgeon population simply can’t take these kinds of hits and survive. They need more water, and they need it right now.”

CONTACT:  Tom Cannon can provide supporting data and is available for interviews. He can be reached at tccannon@comcast.net or (916) 952-6576.
The California Water Impact Network is a state-wide organization that advocates for the equitable and sustainable use of California’s freshwater resources for all Californians.

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