Ring around the nuts, the fruit and the tall, tall cotton
It is too easy to imagine that section of the Eighth Ring of Hell reserved for the lawyers representing California irrigation districts. The lawyers wander across the arid dunes constantly treading on their long tongues, cracked and bleeding. Yet agribusiness mouthpieces still mutter their favorite phrase: "achieving a reasonable balance."
Vultures from a large flock eternally wheeling overhead swoop down and rip the tongues from the lawyers' mouths. The rhetoric is cut short for awhile but only as long as it takes new tongues, like lizards' tails, to regrow.
Round and round it goes, coming around and going around.
Tom Birmingham, Westlands general manager, responded to the protest in a prepared statement: "No one wants to see a repeat of the loss of chinook salmon in the lower Klamath River that occurred in 2002. However, achieving a reasonable balance among competing uses of water involves more than simple slogans that can be fit easily on a protest banner." -- Dan Bacher, IndyBay.org, Aug. 21, 2015
Feds give away fish water to same growers suing over Trinity releases
by Dan Bacher
“This year’s failure of resource and regulatory agencies to protect fisheries and enforce the law is a poster child for the collapse of the Delta’s ecological tapestry,” said Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA). “The resource agencies have bent over backwards to give San Joaquin Valley farmers additional water, even at the expense of fisheries, and these same farmers quickly sued the agencies when they attempted to release a little water to prevent a massive fish kill."
Feds give away fish water to same growers suing over Trinity releases
by Dan Bacher
Over 60 members of the Hoopa Valley Tribe rallied in front of the federal courthouse in Fresno on August 21 as U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill held a hearing regarding the temporary restraining order obtained by Westlands Water District and the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority to block a plan to increase flows on the Trinity River.
They and members of the Klamath Justice Coalition held signs proclaiming, "Westlands Sucks the Trinity Dry," "Remember the Fish Kill 2002," "Save the Trinity," Save the Fish - Release the Dam Water," and "Un Dam the Klamath." Wearing bright green shirts stating, "Save the Trinity River," the Tribal members traced chalk outlines of salmon and people on the pavement showing what would happen to fish and people if the flows aren't released.
"When the fish are gone, we will be gone too," explained Dania Rose Colegrove, Klamath Justice Coalition organizer and member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe.
The Bureau of Reclamation had planned to release the flows starting August 13 to prevent a potential fish kill like the one of September 2002 from taking place on the lower Klamath. However, the court order has to date blocked the increased releases.
"The Trinity River is our vessel of life and the salmon are our lifeblood," stated Danielle Vigil-Masten, Hoopa Valley Tribe Chairperson. "We need water in our rivers, not more proposals like the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and a Klamath settlement processes that prioritizes Oregon irrigators. It is time to change the way California prioritizes water."
Tom Birmingham, Westlands general manager, responded to the protest in a prepared statement: "No one wants to see a repeat of the loss of chinook salmon in the lower Klamath River that occurred in 2002. However, achieving a reasonable balance among competing uses of water involves more than simple slogans that can be fit easily on a protest banner."
The Tribal members, after rallying out in front of the courthouse, then drove to the State Capitol in Sacramento for a hearing conducted by Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro regarding salmon. Vigil-Masten spoke at the hearing regarding the crisis on the Trinity and Klamath rivers.
As Tribal members protested Westlands' blocking of the badly-need flows, alarming evidence emerged regarding a massive giveaway of water by federal agencies to the same water contractors suing the Department of Interior to stop releases to save imperiled salmon from a fish kill.
The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) recently learned that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, both under the Department of Interior, inexplicably gave away 451,000 acre-feet of water in 2011 to farmers in the San Joaquin Valley that could have been stored in Shasta Reservoir to provide critical relief for fisheries in 2012 (below normal year) and 2013 (dry year).
Over half of the available spawning habitat on the Sacramento River for endangered winter-run Chinook salmon has been eliminated this year because of a lack of available cold water in Shasta Reservoir, according to Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. Lack of flow this year has also caused serious violations of water quality standards in the Delta and impacted endangered Delta smelt.
“It is outrageous that the Department of Interior gave away many thousands of acre-feet of fishery water to San Joaquin Valley farmers that could have mitigated serious impacts to salmon and Delta smelt this year,” said Jennings. “But it is abominable and scandalous that the recipients of that gift have now turned around and sued Interior for proposing to release a small amount of water on the Trinity to prevent a repeat of the massive Klamath fish kill of 2002."
"The same South of Delta farmers also received considerable additional exported water this year because water quality standards in the Delta were ignored and violated," Jennings pointed out. "They have no shame."
The Department of the Interior is allocated 800,000 acre-feet of water annually to protect fisheries under Section 3406(b)(2) of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA), the landmark 1992 legislation that made fish and wildlife a purpose of the project for the first time in history. The law also mandated the doubling of all naturally spawning Central Valley anadromous fish populations, including Chinook salmon, steelhead, green and white sturgeon, striped bass and American shad.
During wetter years, like 2006/07, the Department of Interior has “banked” unused portions of that water in Shasta Reservoir for use in future drier years, reported Jennings. However, in the wet year of 2011, only 348,800 acre-feet were used to protect fisheries.
"Instead of banking the water for future needs, the Department of Interior allowed the remaining 451,200 acre-feet to be used as 'replacement pumping' to make up for restrictions imposed by the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) in its Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan (D-1641)," said Jennings. " D-1641 eliminated the Department of Interior’s right to use fish water to make up for water necessary to meet the Water Quality Control Plan’s water quality requirements."
In April, May and June 2013, the Bureau and Department of Water Resources (Department) violated water quality standards for salinity at Emmaton and in June violated salinity standards at Jersey Point. These compliance points are located in the western Delta. Southern Delta salinity standards were also violated June, July through 15 August, according to Jennings.
Fearing that they would also violate Delta Outflow standards, as well as temperature standards on the Sacramento River, the Bureau and Department requested that State Board Executive Director Thomas Howard and Delta Watermaster Craig Wilson allow them to operate under a “critical year” classification instead of a “dry year” classification and move the temperature compliance point on the Sacramento River upstream. The National Marine Fisheries Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of Fish and Wildlife endorsed the request.
Despite a dry spring, 2013 is legally defined as a “dry year.” The State Board has no legal authority to arbitrary change the water year classification. However, on 29 May 2013, the State Board informed USBR and DWR that they “will not object or take any action if the Bureau and Department operate to meet critically dry year objectives for Western and interior Delta.”
Jennings said the result of the State Board’s refusal to enforce water quality standards was that the Bureau and Department increased reservoir releases, ramped up exports and throttled back Delta outflow. The temperature compliance point on the Sacramento River was moved from Red Bluff upstream to Anderson, eliminating crucial spawning habitat for winter-run Chinook salmon.
Reduced Delta outflow caused the low salinity zone to move upstream and Delta smelt were drawn into the Western Delta to perish. But the farmers of Westlands and San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority, who are now suing the Department of Interior over Trinity releases, got more water.
“This year’s failure of resource and regulatory agencies to protect fisheries and enforce the law is a poster child for the collapse of the Delta’s ecological tapestry,” said Jennings. “The resource agencies have bent over backwards to give San Joaquin Valley farmers additional water, even at the expense of fisheries, and these same farmers quickly sued the agencies when they attempted to release a little water to prevent a massive fish kill."
Further information, including Interior’s Water Year 2011 B2 Water Final Accounting, correspondence between the agencies and State Board and a report on this years demise of Delta smelt can be found at http://www.calsport.org.
As the federal government's inexplicable giveaway of dedicated fish water to corporate agribusiness was disclosed, the Brown and Obama administrations continue to fast-track the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels. The purpose of the tunnels is to facilitate the export of more water to agribusiness interests irrigating toxic, drainage impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and oil companies seeking to expand fracking.
The construction of the tunnels would hasten the extinction of Central Valley Chinook salmon and steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species. However, the way the federal and state governments are mismanaging the state's water resources now, it looks like they are doing everything they can to drive salmon and Delta fish populations extinct well before the twin tunnels could ever be built!
California water districts sue U.S. over releases to help Klamath River salmon
FRESNO, Calif. — Agricultural water providers in the Central Valley of California are asking a federal judge to stop releases of extra water intended to help salmon in the Klamath Basin survive the drought.
The lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction was filed late Friday in U.S. District Court in Fresno by Westlands Water District and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, which supply farmers.
No hearing date has been scheduled.
At issue is water held in a reservoir on the Trinity River, which has been divided between the Trinity and Sacramento river basins since the 1960s.
The water districts argue the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has no authority to send water that should go down the Sacramento to the Klamath River to help salmon that are not protected by the Endangered Species Act.
The big fish story everyone is missing in the Western drought
Here’s a news flash: fish need water to survive.
In California, they’re not getting much. If the state’s severe drought continues the way it has for another two years, its salmon, steelhead and smelt are in danger of going away forever. Bettina Boxall has a compelling story in Monday’s Los Angeles Times, “The drought’s hidden victims: California’s native fish.”
A quote in the story from California’s leading authority on native fish, Peter Moyle of the University of California at Davis, gets straight to the point: “We’re going to be losing most of our salmon and steelhead if things continue.” The die-off of Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta smelt, Moyle said in the story, is so massive that all that’s left is “the last of the last.”
It gets worse. The same is starting to happen in Oregon and Washington, where moist climates are giving way to some of the worst drought conditions those states have experienced. I wrote about what falling water levels are doing to Pacific Northwest salmon in a story last month.
[As salmon vanish in the Pacific Northwest, so does Native heritage]
Oregon and Washington have closed dozens of recreational and commercial fishing spots. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service trucked 160,000 salmon 100 miles from a hatchery in central Oregon to a cooler part of the Columbia River.
That mirrored an effort south of the state border in California, where state officials trucked 30 million young chinook salmon to the bay from several hatcheries in a dozen 35,000-gallon water tankers. The delta is so dry that the fish would die trying to migrate 90 miles from the San Joaquin River in the Sacramento area to the San Francisco Bay.
It’s not just that the water is low. With temperatures in all three states rising and water levels falling, the shallower waters warms sooner. It’s a triple whammy for the fish. Warm water carries more diseases that attack fish that prefer waters cooler than 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Adult and young salmon get hit coming and going in their migrations in rivers to and from the ocean.
An estimated quarter-million salmon, more than half of the spring spawning run up the Columbia River, perished, probably because of a disease that thrives in warm water and causes gill rot, officials said.
Salmon and other fish usually take a beating when humans develop in and around their habitats. Dams and other water diversions have blocked them from historic spawning grounds on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.
“The bleakest, most dire outcome is if this drought is sustained for a couple more years like California,” said Greg McMillan, science and conservation director for Oregon’s Deschutes River Alliance. Some populations “could go extinct,” he said...
After hatching, some salmon young head directly to the ocean and, likely this year, straight to their doom as warm weather diseases can cause gill rot. Other young salmon shelter in the places where they hatch, which is more worrisome, because higher temperatures have warmed their habitat. It’s a better environment for disease, and also the plant life the fish feed on can’t grow.
“Those fish trying to live in the fresh water for the year are gone, toast,” said Teresa Scott, drought coordinator for Washington state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. “We’re having impacts on fish right now, but that won’t be felt until adults don’t show up in future years.”
Wild animals in drought-stricken Western states are dying for a drink
For the giant kangaroo rat, death by nature is normally swift and dramatic: a hopeless dash for safety followed by a blood-curdling squeak as their bellies are torn open by eagles, foxes, bobcats and owls.
They’re not supposed to die the way they are today — emaciated and starved, their once abundant population dwindling to near nothing on California’s sprawling Carrizo Plain, about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles, where the drought is turning hundreds of thousands of acres of grassland into desert.
Without grass, long-legged kangaroo rats cannot eat. And as they go, so go a variety of threatened animals that depend on the keystone species to live. “That whole ecosystem changes without the giant kangaroo rat,” said Justin Brashares, an associate professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of California at Berkeley.
Endangered kangaroo rats are just one falling tile in the drought’s domino effect on wildlife in the lower Western states. Large fish kills are happening in several states as waters heated by higher temperatures drain and lose oxygen. In Northern California, salmon eggs have virtually disappeared as water levels fall. Thousands of migrating birds are crowding into wetlands shrunk by drought, risking the spread of disease that can cause huge die-offs...
As the baking Western landscape becomes hotter and drier, land animals are being forced to seek water and food far outside their normal range. Herbivores such as deer and rabbits searching for a meal in urban gardens in Reno are sometimes pursued by hawks, bobcats and mountain lions. In Arizona, rattlesnakes have come to Flagstaff, joining bears and other animals in search of food that no longer exists in their habitat.
“You think about it. In our urban environments, we have artificial water. We’re not relying on creeks,” said David Catalano, a supervisory biologist for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “We have sprinkling systems. We water bushes with fruit and water gardens. That’s just a magnet for everything.
“We’ve seen an increase in coyote calls, bear calls, mountain lion calls — all the way to mice and deer,” Catalano said of the distress calls made to his department by residents. “At your house, everything is green and growing and flowering, and they’re being drawn to it.”
The state wildlife agency said it is preparing for a deluge of calls reporting bear sightings from Lake Tahoe this summer when berries and other foods they eat disappear for lack of rain.
About 4,000 mule deer have vanished from a mountain range near Reno since late last year, probably because of drought. “Our level of concern is very high,” Catalano said. Nevada has placed low fiberglass pools called guzzlers that hold up to 3,600 gallons of water at more than 1,000 wilderness areas across the state to provide water for wildlife...
For a second year, the Arizona Game and Fish Department warned people in Flagstaff, near Grand Canyon National Park: “Don’t be surprised if you see more wild animals around town in the next few months. Drought conditions may cause creatures like elk, deer, bobcats, foxes, coyotes and even bears to wander further into town than normal, as they seek sources of food and water.”
Don’t feed them, the department cautioned. Remove pet food, water bowls, garbage and other items that attract wild animals. It does more harm than good.
In California, where mandatory water restrictions were passed by the state water board on Tuesday, humans are already coming into contact with desperate wildlife from the 250,000-acre Carrizo Plain National Monument in the Central Valley, near Bakersfield.
“Just today, 20 minutes ago, four coyote cubs arrived” from Bakersfield’s outskirts, said Don Richardson, curator of animals for the California Living Museum, which has an animal shelter in the city.
“We actually get everything from reptiles to mammals,” Richardson said. “We have 13 San Joaquin kit foxes, an endangered species. They were abandoned, orphaned. The kit foxes’ health was impacted by the struggle to make it with reduced resources. Then, of course, we see a lot of birds of prey — owls and golden eagles.”
The animals are already suffering from the fragmentation of their habitat because of ranching and urban development. “It’s looking to be a very, very difficult year for wildlife,” Richardson said.
Endangered San Joaquin kit foxes, coyotes and birds in the wildlands outside Bakersfield all rely on the giant kangaroo rat to survive. But those rodents are struggling themselves.
“We fear that a semi-arid grassland is becoming a desert,” said Brashares. “The giant kangaroo rat can’t survive in desert.”
A study by the university recorded a 95 percent population loss since 2010.
Before the drought, 60 percent of their habitat was covered in grasses that they eat and seeds that they store for hard times in a network of underground burrows, Brashares said. Four years of little rain has reduced the cover to 18 percent.
“They simply lack food, so they starve,” Brashares said. As the state wildfire season approaches, the remaining grasses could be wiped out...
For a study, biologists caught a few kangaroo rats this year to study their condition. “They were skinny,” Brashares said. “We looked at females to see whether they had young, whether they were lactating.” They weren’t.
In this reality, where food is scarce and births are few, kangaroo rats are still a top prey, further shrinking their numbers.
The demise of this species would be unthinkable, Brashares said. There’s no overstating how important the rodent is in the ecosystem. Few others are around to feed snakes, badgers, weasels and animals already mentioned. Even the soil kangaroo rats dig for burrows creates moist habitat for insects.
A worse situation is hard to imagine, said Stafford Lehr, chief of fisheries for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. But there is one.
Chinook salmon are in great danger, he said. For two years, only 5 percent of their eggs have survived winter and spring migrations because the cold water their eggs need to survive drains from rivers and reservoirs.
“If you draw down a reservoir, cold water at the bottom drains first,” Lehr said.
To save them, wildlife officials tried to replenish cold water that drained from Shasta Lake north of Sacramento last year. “It didn’t work,” Lehr said.
“Ninety-five percent of eggs and juvenile brood in 2014 were killed,” Lehr said. “Those would be expected to return three years later. We also had heavy mortality in 2013, expected back in 2016. The 2015 fish are spawning right now. We’re trying everything in our power to have enough cold water in Shasta so we don’t have what we had last year.”
Salmon are only part of the problem. Smelt are at the lowest number ever recorded in the state. They are a major forage fish, feeding other fish and birds in the marine ecosystem.
“It’s part of the heritage resource in the state of California. It’s our responsibility to ensure they are protected,” Lehr said. “Every time you lose something, it puts pressure on the environment.
“You lose it and something else will replace it, but it will be lost. They’re part of the ecosystem. Millions of dollars have been invested in their survival.”