(Full article here: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/8mh3r97j…) 14/25, Why all the focus on the delta smelt, then? CALIFORNIA / Delta smelt numbers plunge / Debate over state's pumping of water after only 25 found Patrick Hoge , Chronicle Staff Writer May 22, 2007 Updated: Jan. 17, 2012 7:36 p.m. Birmingham points out that the provision to convert its contract is courtesy of a 2016 law, which was approved by a bipartisan Congress and signed into law by Barack Obama. Harbingers of a diminishing ecosystem, the smelt are almost extinct. “The next generations of Californians deserve nothing less.”. Required fields are marked *. “They have farms here and they don’t get water,” he said, as the crowd, holding up green “Farmers for Trump” signs booed. LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL'S DIGEST. You've probably never heard of it. A 2012 study found that the whole system was, ultimately, inefficient, though the reclamation bureau says the program has been tweaked to separate predators and make the experience more comfortable for the fish. Protections have sometimes placed limits on water extracted from … All rights reserved. Invasive overbite clams and Asian clams have been leaving the smelt with less to eat. Most importantly, it demonstrates the immense power of media personalities. But no smelt. Westlands, he says, is being unfairly antagonized by environmental groups. In the Consolidated Delta Smelt Cases, the acting federal agency is the Bureau, in coordination with DWR, and the agency action is the operations of the Projects diverting water from the Delta to southern California, or “south of the Delta exports. A key area of controversy centers on impacts to delta smelt associated with exporting large volumes of freshwater from the estuary to supply California’s significant agricultural and urban water demands. That would have been enough to sustain 6.4 million Californians for six years. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. On a warm November morning, John Durand squints over the stern of a small research boat, and gestures toward gray-blue water, and the chaotic tangles of tube-like tule reeds. “At the end of the day, sure, it’s just a crummy little fish and there aren’t a lot of them left,” he says. I n late December 2017, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife revealed that its regular fall survey of the delta’s waters had captured a total of two smelt, the lowest in the survey’s 50-year history. Or hurting? Now, the creatures caught in the crossfire of the state’s water wars have all but disappeared, and biologists worry that newly empowered forces within the Trump administration could usher them into oblivion. And after all of that, the smelt may still die from the stress of the whole ordeal, or they may get caught up in the pumps again – rinse and repeat. Last fall, Trump signed a memorandum directing federal agencies to review and roll back environmental standards slowing down the flow of water to farms in the Central Valley. That little fish is the delta smelt. The delta smelt is endemic to the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta in California, where it is distributed from the Suisun Bay upstream through the delta in Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, and Solano Counties. Soon after UC Davis researchers first began sampling in the delta, nearly 40 years ago, the delta smelt populations suffered a huge blow: their numbers had suddenly declined by more than 80%. Is Coca Cola helping the environment? It’s not just the overpumping, but the pumps themselves that have strained the smelt. California's Delta smelt are dying: How this affects the state's water. California has a new endangered species on its hands in the San Joaquin Valley—farmers. 19/25, Although protections of the delta smelt are not the cause of California’s water problems, the state’s water system does face threats. Westlands contests that the biological opinion benefits them in any way. 2/25, In one of his first interviews after being diagnosed with COVID-19, President Trump complained to Sean Hannity of Fox News that California has to “ration” water because it pours its supply into the sea to “take care of certain little tiny fish.” 3/25, The fish in question is the delta smelt, an endangered species that is found only in the northeastern part of San Francisco Bay, where it receives the flow of the mighty rivers that drain the Sierra Nevada. A 2019 study by Rosenfield and his colleagues at the San Francisco Bay Institute and the Nature Conservancy found that the amount of water the pumps could pull was most often limited by the need to keep saltwater at bay. Durand chuckles and combs his fingers through his white goatee. Protections have sometimes placed limits on water extracted from its habitat, although far less than is often claimed. It will be interesting to see if 2020 will be the third year the smelt goes missing from the fall CDFW survey, but we won’t find out the results until late December of this year. 17/25, A look at Google search interest in delta smelt makes this clear. AB 1325, as introduced, Salas. Fish headed toward the machinery are corralled with nets and redirected to collection tanks, where they’re catalogued before being trucked back into other parts of the estuary. For Trump and Hannity, the delta smelt controversy is not simply about water in California. But in California, it's representative of a decades old clash over water allocation. Decades of water exports and environmental degradation under the state and federal governments have brought the smelt to the edge of extinction. It is an endemic species that is on verge of extinction, largely because it is in direct competition with people for water. Here it is a thread, I was bombarded w/ messages about Trump’s claims about California water & a “certain little tiny fish,” the delta smelt, the topic of my dissertation & current book project. Before joining the administration, Bernhardt worked as a lobbyist and lawyer for the Westlands Water District, the nation’s largest agricultural water contractor. Even if they could, turning down the pumps isn’t quite as easy as shutting off a faucet. Then the crew lifts the net up, splashes the contents into a bucket. “Revolutions are expensive, I guess, and no one wants to be the one to pay for them.”. The slender-bodied fish typically reaches about 60-70 mm to a maximum size of about 120 mm (Figures 1, 2 and 3). Paul Souza, the US Fish and Wildlife official who oversaw the drafting of the biological opinions, says, “there’s absolutely no connection” between Bernhardt’s past work with Westlands and the results presented in the biological opinion. Many lawsuits have been filed in a dispute over the amount of water that … “In the meantime, know what’s ironic?” says Rosenfield. If enough fresh water isn’t, to paraphrase Donald Trump, shoved out to sea, the sea will shove into shore, flooding the estuary with salt water. Interest in the species does not track its effect on water policy. Instead, the largest spike in public interest in the delta smelt by far is in September 2009, when Hannity held his exposé on Fox News. I'll eventually have a piece on the politics out, as well as something on the science-law interface. Not only is Newsom promoting the Delta Tunnel, but he is pushing the Sites Reservoir project and the Big Ag-backed voluntary agreements that, combined with the tunnel project, are likely to hasten the extinction of not only Delta smelt,  but also long fin smelt, Central Valley steelhead, winter and spring-run Chinook salmon, green sturgeon and an array of other fish species. Even Donald Trump has an opinion on the delta smelt. The major decline and the extinction of these fish has shown a major problem with the delta and is the first domino to fall in the diverse ecology of the delta. 5/25, Commentators swooped in to point out the seemingly “bizarre” nature of Trump’s claim, e.g. The delta is the most contentious body of water in California, pulled in all directions by powerful interests. In fact, Governor Newsom is currently fast-tracking the construction of the Delta Tunnel, considered potentially the most environmentally destructive public works project in California history by fish advocates, scientists, Tribal leaders, recreational and commercial fishermen, environmental justice leader, family farmers. In 2014, Bernhardt represented Westlands in an appeals case challenging Endangered Species Act protections for delta smelt. Over the course of the day, they count a total of 78 fish, including some native species, like the splittail, and some invasive ones, including a massive catfish. 24/25, The next time the president makes false claims about water in California, his words should be taken for what they are: an attempt to divide Americans against their common interest in a livable planet. 6/25, Trump says California had to ration water because it poured its supply into the sea to ‘take care…, ‘They send millions of gallons of water out to sea, out to the Pacific. The delta smelt once thrived in the delta and were found by the thousands up until 5 years ago. “Where do we draw the line?” Durand says. Lovely! By the time the two agencies coordinate with each other and taper down the pumping, “these fish are already dying”, Rosenfield says. On October 14, Restore the Delta shared a thread from Caleb Scoville Ph.D., Asst. All the while, delta smelt have also been coping with the encroachment of invasive species. The minuscule delta smelt, a ... outsize importance this weekend when Donald Trump speculated that it may be responsible for drought-stricken Fresno, California’s water woes. 09339-3, Your email address will not be published. But it’s been four years since Durand and his team of researchers from the University of California, Davis, have found the finger-length fish that gleam golden and “smell kind of like cucumber” in the brackish streams and sloughs of northern California’s bay delta. 2012). (Then the book!) 13/25, In some years – even as the controversy boiled over – the export of massive amounts of water from the Delta was not impeded by protections for delta smelt at all. “I don’t know how much more stress the system can take.”, Available for everyone, funded by readers. “I believe that, having talked to some of the local farmers and ranchers in this area.”, The trouble is, once environmental groups and government officials start talking about reallocating water rights and rationing, “those are triggers, those are fighting words in California”, he says. And as soon as the CDFW fall midwater trawl survey results are in, I will share them here. So, why do they still get so many Californians so riled up? 18/25, Hannity and other conservative elites outside of California used the delta smelt’s small size and uncharismatic appearance to suggest that liberals in faraway cities care more about a “stupid little fish” than ordinary Americans. Found only in the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary, the smelt is an indicator species that shows the health of the ecosystem. Thanks go to Dr. Scoville for writing this tweet thread and Restore the Delta for sharing it. © 2015   Sustainable Enterprises Media, Inc. Red State Voices and Blue State Voices coming together for GREEN, Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window), Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window), Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window), Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window), Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window), Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window). Delta smelt nears extinction The survival of a tiny fish, the delta smelt, is threatened by a lack of freshwater flows to its habitat. I wrote a short reaction piece but was unable to get it published as an oped. Does he think we’ll see any today? Meanwhile, the Trump administration has finalized a plan that threatens the Delta smelt, salmon and other fish species even more than they already are by maximizing Delta water exports to corporate agribusiness interests in the San Joaquin Valley. “And I have to ask myself, have the people expressing those criticisms read the same document?”. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. © 2020 Guardian News & Media Limited or its affiliated companies. “American shad, 67mm,” yells Caroline Newell, her indigo hair exploding out of the back of her UC Davis baseball cap. “I have confidence in the ability of the agencies to conduct real-time monitoring, and to adjust operations of the project based on real-time monitoring,” he says, noting that federal and state operations are already using these techniques to scan the estuary for turbid conditions that could attract smelt. 15/25, Hannity’s focus on the delta smelt brought the species out of obscurity, making it a symbol for all that was supposedly wrong with California, liberals, and environmentalism. “It’s funny, because the smelt are a small fish, and now they’re a rare fish, but they still loom large over all our environmental and water policies,” he adds. “It’s a lot to put on a little fish.”. Because most Delta smelt live for just one year, even temporary environmental changes can decimate the population. “But then, every time we lose a species it’s just a sign that there are more losses to come.”, If the delta smelt go, California may be able to pump some more. “The problem is, while they’re going through that system of canals, or waiting in a truck, they’re exposed to all these other fish, all these predators that are happily snacking on them the whole time,” says Jon Rosenfield, a fish biologist at San Francisco Baykeeper, an environmental watchdog group. In spite of portraying their administrations as “green,” Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom did nothing to reverse the slide towards extinction. The federally endangered delta smelt, a minnow on the brink of extinction, is at the heart of a bitter struggle over the use of California’s most important estuary, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. In an attempt to engineer their way out of problems born from an over-engineered ecosystem, the US Bureau of Reclamation built a “fish collection facility” a couple of miles north of the pumps. 11/25, A systematic scientific analysis of restrictions on Delta water use refutes these claims. Delta smelt. When scientists from the marine fisheries service in July submitted a thousand-page report warning that more pumping would jeopardize several species including endangered winter-run Chinook salmon and the southern resident killer whales that eat salmon, the interior department pulled the document. The delta smelt lives in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the West Coast's largest estuary that supplies water to Central Valley farms and millions of Southern California residents. What’s next for smelt? For Trump and Hannity, the delta smelt controversy is not simply about water in California. But it’s pretty hard to know where exactly the smelt are – after all, they’ve eluded researchers for years. Because they want to take care of certain little tiny fish.’, https://escholarship.org/uc/item/8mh3r97j…. Agriculture and nature can work together, Durand says, so long as people are willing to let them. From COVID-19 to the climate emergency: Lessons from this global crisis for the next one, Trump's USDA is serving up diseased chicken, The importance of a regenerative food system for sustainable agriculture. “The ‘real-time management’ part especially has some huge air quotes around it.” The idea is that federal scientists will monitor the water, and signal for the pumps to be turned down. Is food grown hydroponically as healthy as soil-grown crops. Watchdog groups say Bernhardt hasn’t quite kept his word. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by, and do not necessarily represent the views of Sustainable Enterprises Media, Inc., its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries. and about the fall 2018 survey and the spring 2019 survey here: California’s Delta Smelt are nearing extinction (But California water agencies don’t care). California's Karuk Tribe leads effort to fight racism and climate change... with fire! The Delta Smelt is a small fish, endemic to California that only occurs in the San Francisco Estuary. In response, the federal reclamation commissioner, Brenda Burman, derided Newsom’s preference “to have judges dictate these important projects instead of the career professionals at the federal and state levels who have developed a plan based on the best science and significant input from the public.” If Californians want a legal fight, she said in a statement to the Guardian, “that’s their choice, we’ll see them in court”. Shortly after the new biological opinions were released, Westlands concluded negotiations to permanently lock in its water service contract, which entitles them to 1.15m acre-feet of water per year – about twice what the city of Los Angeles uses annually. I do have an article already out, but it's on a different dimension of the case (https://t.co/v2EgGSMRkm). “You cannot apply saltwater to farmland. First, it shows that the proportion of water being extracted for human use from the San Francisco Bay watershed has increased, rather than decreased in recent decades 12/15, Second, it shows that during the 2012-16 drought, protections of the delta smelt accounted for a minuscule constraint on water project exports in California (only 1.2% of actual water flowing through the Delta to the San Francisco Bay). “I read the criticisms of the new biological opinions,” he says. But this time of year, the system could use a bit of nutrient infusion to feed the delta’s fish. He and other officials who drafted the reports “are career professionals”, Souza said in a statement to the Guardian. From the deck of the research boat, gliding down Cache Slough, it’s easy enough to imagine how the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta used to look – before the Gold Rush, before colonial settlers built their farms and ranches, before they constrained the marsh with levees and cut its flow with dams and diversions, before massive pumps began sucking it dry, before all the infrastructure drove native wildlife to the brink of extinction. “The whole process is just beautiful,” he says. Back on the research boat, as an afternoon of sampling winds down, and the weather warms and mellows and stills, it’s impossible not to notice the spicy scent of dung and fertilizer in the air. I was bombarded w/ messages about Trump’s claims about California water & a “certain little tiny fish,” the delta smelt, the topic of my dissertation & current book project. Surveyors from the California fish and wildlife department netted two in 2017, and none since. At the helm, Christopher Jasper, a graduate student, motors forward, dragging the trawl down the slough for five minutes. Westlands has reportedly threatened to walk away from state efforts to broker water-sharing deals if Newsom sues. He helped create it. “As biologists, we call those ecosystem inputs,” he says with a laugh. Their numbers dipped even lower after a period of extended drought in the late 80s and early 90s, then lower still during California’s most recent drought, which lasted from 2012 through 2016. The trouble is, the behemoth pumps run by the state and federal government, which can draw up to 10,000 and 5,500 cubic feet of water per second, respectively, can cause rivers to run backward, sucking smelt and other fish into their system. In 2004, the Delta smelt was found to be on the edge of extinction. California’s state government has joined the morass as well: California’s governor Gavin Newsom declared that the state is drafting litigation as well. The agency touted “smarter delta operations through real-time adaptive management and greater management oversight of delta pumping operations informed by updated science” to help the smelt and other endangered species recover even as the mammoth state and federal pumps drained more water out of the ecosystem. S not just the overpumping, but the pumps isn ’ t have ankle! Go to Dr. Scoville for writing this tweet thread and Restore the delta smelt have been! An article already out, but we have no way of actually knowing, ” he says so! As soil-grown crops this tweet thread and Restore the delta smelt controversy is not simply about water in,. Scoville for writing this tweet thread and Restore the delta ’ s claim, e.g no ”! Food grown hydroponically as healthy as soil-grown crops sometimes, too many nutrients in the delta for sharing.! 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