Massacre on the Delta

"The collapse of the Delta Estuary is really a regulatory collapse." Bill Jennings, chairman of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

But the regulatory process doesn't collapse all by itself. Delta fish populations were declining 15 years ago. Collapses began a few years ago. Meanwhile, CALFED met to "fix the Delta." The collapses occurred while regulators dithered, environmental stakeholders groups bought into a collaborative process, water agencies sued, and Bush appointees and federal and state legislators muscled resource agencies and starved them of funds.

In Merced, where local, state and federal government officials have continued to buy off most of the public with "citizen" collaborative processes, lawsuits and grassroots campaigns have been successful in stopping some environmental destruction.

The idea of CALFED was to bring state and federal resource agencies, stakeholders and environmental groups together in a collaborative process of regional planning. CALFED failed completely. Yet, today, the governor has initiated two new collaborative planning processes, the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint and the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley in new efforts to stave off environmental lawsuits against ruinous urban growth. The Blueprint and the Partnership will come to be called the children of CALFED.

At the moment, while Congressman Cardoza alarms Lathrop city officials about the terrors of FEMA floodplain maps and poses in farming districts as the savior of the Honey Bee, former Congressman Pombo signs with Stockton to lobby on water issues, and witless Congressman McNerney sojourns in Livermore, Jennings brings us up to date on the slaughter in the Delta...

Much attention has been focused on the expanded salvage numbers of Delta smelt, as identified by DFG, DWR and Bureau representatives in the press. Unfortunately, they have misled the public regarding the actual numbers of smelt killed by the pumps. The real number of smelt killed by the pumps is not 448 (208 by the SWP and 240 by the CVP), but closer to 11,000 smelt killed during May. It is this number that must be compared to the handful of fish found in the Delta by DFG during the May trawls.

I became curious about agency claims after reading a 1994 article in the SacBee by Jim Meyer that quoted DFG biologist Dale Sweetman as saying, “The actual fish kill is at least 12 times the number of fish salvaged” because since “they can’t measure how many fish are killed, the pump’ operators use the number of fish saved by screens as a gauge to estimate the loss.”

I asked biologist Dan Odenweller (retired DFG chief of screening) about the actual killed versus salvaged rates. Dan pointed out that only an estimated 5% of fish are actually diverted around the first set of fish screens to the secondary channel and only about 5% of those are then diverted around the second set of screens to the salvage buckets. In other words, about 99.5% of smelt are neither “salvaged” nor counted. They continue down the DMC toward the Tehachapis. Of course, none of the “salvaged” Delta smelt survive and these numbers don’t include the larval stage of smelt (less than 20 mm) that can’t be detected. Added to the smelt that pass unrecorded through the screens, is the large number killed by predators in Clifton Court Forebay before they get to the pump inlet. The federal facility is somewhat different and doesn’t experience the same degree of predation as the SWP.

Attached is a simple model developed by Odenweller. Based on his best professional judgment, Dan estimates that CVP pumping killed approximately 2,896 smelt during May and the SWP pumping (assuming forebay predation for smelt is the same as salmon) killed 8,533, for an approximate total of 11,429. This is far different that the 448 smelt killed by pumps that we’ve seen widely quoted in the press. The bottom line is that, during May, the project pumps killed somewhere in the vicinity of 300 times the number of smelt DFG found in surveys throughout the Delta.

I’m sure everyone remembers that the CalFed ROD promised state of the art fish screens. That was before the water contractors bluntly stated that they wouldn’t pay for them.

With respect to the current surveys, the 2007 Survey #6 is finished and most of the information has been posted (as of Sunday night). This latest survey found smelt at 6 sites (115 trawls) with a total catch per unit equivalent (CPUE) of 18.28. This compares to last year’s Survey #6 that found smelt at 19 sites (121 trawls) with a total CPUE of 1,273.8. I haven’t seen the total numbers of smelt captured posted but, using the CPUE as an indicator, it’s clear that this year’s Survey #6 shows a massive drop from the corresponding survey last year. Indeed, it’s clear that DFG found far fewer smelt in this year’s Survey #6 than the paltry 25 smelt identified in the immediately preceding Survey #5. The splittail and longfin numbers also reveal a dramatic drop from last year. Striped bass look about the same.

With respect to the alleged reduction (minimized) in pumping at the federal CVP that was almost universally touted in the press, I note that export rate during the first two days in June is exactly the same as pumping throughout May (1,692 Acre Feet, 855 cfs). Farmers get their water despite adverse effects on Delta smelt; municipalities scramble to find supplies from storage. Sound familiar?

Bill Jennings, Chairman
Executive Director
California Sportfishing Protection Alliance
3536 Rainier Avenue
Stockton, CA 95204
p: 209-464-5067
c: 209-938-9053
f: 209-464-1028
e: deltakeep [at]