News in Brief


Monday, July 28, 2014

Water bond must recognize Sierra’s importance!

RB Delta Aerials

Before they left Sacramento for summer recess, legislators said they would work together to hammer out a new water bond bill when they returned in August. This would replace the $11.14 billion proposal currently on the November ballot, which has already been delayed twice.
Although legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown have put forward conflicting ideas that may be difficult to reconcile, we have confidence our leadership can get the job done. But it will be up to us to hold our elected leaders accountable because if they don’t pass a workable water bond deal, we risk devastating consequences.
Here are just a few reasons why:
• The drought is projected to cost the state’s economy $2.2 billion and the loss of 17,100 jobs.
• While the governor called for a 20 percent reduction in water use, urban and residential customers actually increased their usage by 1 percent.
• Based on that increase, the State Water Resources Control Board made wasting water a criminal act punishable by fines of up to $500 a day.
• 428,000 acres of irrigated cropland have gone out of production, including feed for livestock and dairy cows.
• Farmers are making up for lost water deliveries by pumping groundwater, but since groundwater isn’t monitored or regulated, we don’t know how much longer that can last.
• Nearly 80 percent of California voters believe we need to do something now to change how we manage groundwater supplies.
• And it’s gotten so bad even Lady Gaga is hawking the water conservation message.
California voters have passed water bonds every two to four years on average since the mid-1980s. We do this because protecting our water sources – for drinking, commerce, food production and for environmental and other needs – is fundamental to our individual and collective survival. It takes money and, when spent wisely, that money benefits the whole state.
Why is this bond proving so difficult?
To get a bond passed these days, it has to contain something for everyone, which inflates the price tag at a time when Brown and many Californians are trying to be more fiscally prudent. Economic pragmatism is a good thing, but we can’t let it undermine the important goal of protecting and enhancing our watersheds and the many services they provide.
California needs water bond funding to address the drought, protect jobs, conserve important resources and otherwise help fix the state’s outdated water system – beginning where the water does, in the source areas.
To that end, the Sierra Business Council recommends that any new water bond do the following:
• Recognize the forested watersheds of the Sierra-Cascade as an area of statewide significance because they provide 65 percent to 75 percent of the state’s developed water supply – including all or part of the drinking water for more than 23 million people and irrigation for one-third of California’s agricultural land – and make up half of the freshwater inflow to the Delta.
• Allocate funding using a regional approach in which population, land area and a region’s significance to the local and state water system are taken into account.
• Distribute funding through state conservancies in areas where they operate, honoring their local knowledge and track record of getting funding out on the ground efficiently and effectively to complete important projects that achieve statewide goals.
• And, perhaps most importantly, invest in the areas where it will do the most good, where the water originates – such as the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade – not just in the urban areas where the votes are.
All Californians share a need for predictable, clean and abundant supplies of water, along with the many other benefits provided to us by our forested watersheds. Fixing the state’s water system will take decades; but we have real and documented needs right now. Investment in the source areas is one in a series of linked actions needed over the next 10 to 20 years to secure our water for the future. Investing in California’s primary watershed should be a high priority for the state, regardless of which bill becomes the final vehicle for a 2014 water bond.
Steven Frisch is president of the Sierra Business Council, a nonprofit network of more than 4,000 businesses, community organizations, local governments and individuals.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Federal judge's decision a 'death warrant' for Delta smelt?

Is federal judge's decision a 'death warrant' for Delta smelt?
by Dan Bacher
Friday Jul 11th, 2014 6:40 PM
"The USFWS and Bureau have escorted Delta smelt to the scaffold and the judge signed the warrant," said Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. "We did all we could do to prevent disaster." 

Is federal judge's decision a 'death warrant' for Delta smelt?

Fresno judge denies motion to block water transfers

by Dan Bacher

In a major setback to Delta smelt recovery efforts, a federal judge on July 11 denied a motion by an environmental group and fishing organization for a preliminary injunction against water transfers from northern California to San Joaquin Valley irrigators.

Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill of the U.S. District Court in Fresno rejected the motion for the preliminary injunction to stop the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from transferring water through the south Delta export pumps to the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority, which includes the Westlands Water District.

The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) and AquAlliance filed the motion, claiming that the environmental assessment was "seriously flawed" and that the transfers posed "an eminent threat to threatened Delta smelt," according to a statement from Bill Jennings, CSPA Executive Director.

CSPA and AquAlliance had pointed out that extremely low Delta outflows this year had brought Delta smelt habitat (the low salinity zone) and Delta smelt into the Delta where they were threatened with lethal water temperatures.

The judge's decision was predicated on “agency deference” and the fact that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Bureau claimed that Delta smelt were not in danger because they’re not in the Delta in summer, noted Jennings.

“Courts should defer to the agency on matters within the agency’s expertise unless the agency has completely failed to address a factor that was essential to making an informed decision,"Judge O’Neill wrote.

Jennings said, “We’re deeply disappointed in the decision and will now decide our next steps. Contrary to the decision, Delta smelt are at severe risk. The U.S. Geological Survey’s state-of-the-art flow gages of Delta outflow, confirmed by increasing salinity levels, reveal a net inflow to the Delta from the ocean."

Jennnings said the 23-26 June Delta smelt survey by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife reveals that there are no Delta smelt in Suisun Bay and that 92.95% are in the Delta and exposed to high temperatures. A remnant group (7%) of Delta smelt is trapped in the Sacramento Ship Channel, but won’t likely survive August temperatures.

State fishery biologists counted only 22 smelt, once the most numerous species in the entire Delta, from June 23 to June 26. The survey included 120 trawls at 40 different locations.

Delta Smelt on the Scaffold

"The USFWS and Bureau have escorted Delta smelt to the scaffold and the judge signed the warrant. We did all we could do to prevent disaster," emphasized Jennings.

Jennings said the state and federal governments have mismanaged northern California water so poorly that there was actually a minus 45 cubic feet per second (cfs) net outflow to the Bay this May while the Department of Water Resources and US Bureau of Reclamation were reporting a plus 3805 cfs.

“Last year, excessive water exports and low outflow drew delta smelt from Suisun Bay into the central Delta where they were butchered by lethal water temperatures," Jennings revealed. "This year, with population levels hovering at historic lows: excessive transfers and exports, relaxed flow standards, high temperatures and negligible outflows may catapult the species into the abyss of extinction. On top of these threats, we were astonished to discover that the estimates of Delta outflow that state and federal agencies have reported and regulators have relied upon for years are wrong and significantly overestimate outflow in low flow conditions."

The Net Delta Outflow Index (NDOI) used to assess compliance with required flow standards is based upon a formula of both actual and estimated data. Examination of tidally filtered outflow data from the U.S. Geological Survey’s state-of-the-art UVM flow meters on the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and Three-mile and Dutch Sloughs reveals that actual Net Delta Outflow (NDO) in low flow conditions are considerably lower, according to Jennings.

The CSPA has published a new report, "Delta Smelt on the Scaffold," that features an abundance index of Delta smelt showing the historically low population. The CDFW’s late June and early July 20mm Delta smelt surveys since 1996 demonstrate that Delta smelt are actually in the Delta during this period in all but the wettest years. The report also includes a comparison of USBR’s alleged Delta outflow with actual outflow monitoring from USGS’s state-of-the-art flow gages. You can read the report at:

Delta Smelt Facts:

The Delta smelt, Hypomesus transpacificus, is an endangered fish from 2.0 to 2.8 inches long that is found only in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. It mainly inhabits the freshwater-saltwater mixing zone of the estuary, except during its spawning season when it migrates upstream to freshwater following winter "first flush" flow events, approximately from March to May.

The fish is an "indicator species" that demonstrates the health of the Bay-Delta Estuary, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas. Because of its one-year life cycle and relatively low fecundity, it is very susceptible to changes in the environmental conditions of its native habitat. Massive water exports out of Delta to corporate agribusiness interests have played a key role in the precipitous decline of the fish in recent years.

The decision took place as Governor Jerry Brown is fast-tracking his Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels. The tunnels won't create one drop of new water, but they will hasten the extinction of Central Valley Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other species. The project will also imperil the salmon and steelhead populations of the Trinity and Klamath rivers.

Note: The court decision plus an index of Delta smelt, results of the 23-26 June DFW Delta smelt survey, USGS flow data and salinity data that show Delta smelt to be at grave risk are attached.
§The Reality for Delta Smelt
by Dan Bacher Friday Jul 11th, 2014 6:40 PM

Saturday, June 28, 2014


Good ol' American baseball, old-fashioned parade, snow skiing on the 4th?
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Raley Field Fireworks and the Tower Bridge in Sacramento
Taken by Logan Sakai (used under Creative Commons license)
San Francisco's twin fireworks shows and Tahoe's pyrotechnics often overshadow other northern California July 4 celebrations, but don't let them distract you. Try some of these fun activities for a change of pace.
  • Napa County Fair: The annual county fair often ends with a fireworks show. Get this year's schedule.
  • Sacramento: The state capitol's July 4th Pyro Spectacular is held at CalExpo, the state fairgrounds. USA Today says Sacramento's Raley Field is one of the best places to watch minor league baseball in the country, and what could be more American than that? Check the Sacramento Rivercats' schedule.
  • Six Flags Discovery Kingdom: Up in Vallejo, you can ride yourself silly and see a fireworks show, all the same place. More details, hours, schedule.
  • Lake Oroville: A nice fireworks show over the lake in the beautiful Sierra Nevada foothills, lasting about 30 minutes. Details here.
  • Ski Mammoth: It may not happen very often, but every once in a while, snow lingers so late in the Eastern Sierra that you can ski on July 4. 2011 is one of those years. Check this year's schedule.
  • Old-Fashioned Fourth of July in Gold Country: The Gold Rush town at Columbia State Historic Park puts on a very old-fashioned Fourth of July Celebration, with a parade anyone can march in. Just decorate your vehicle (1961 model or older), your pet (under 120 pounds) or yourself (any size) and join the fun. After that, there's a concert, street dance and lots of old-fashioned activities to enjoy.
More 4th of July Fireworks