Time to heed water warnings, rebuild our salmon runs
Gov. Brown’s top aides are moving ahead with plans to build a massive peripheral canal that looks a lot like the one voters rejected in 1982. Only this time the project is expected to cost on the order of $40 billion to build and finance – a lot of money at a time when the state is broke.
Most worrisome for salmon fishing businesses and communities is the risk that the canal would take water needed to keep salmon alive and hand it to corporate agriculture operations in the San Joaquin Valley at the expense of the state’s salmon runs.
The law currently requires the state to restore the ecological health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. More freshwater flowing through the Delta is needed to do this. Improved flows would help salmon too.
This law, coupled with common sense, suggests that the state first calculate how much more water is needed from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers to achieve restoration goals. That calculation should be the foundation of any plan for the Delta.
State and federal law also require the production of at least 990,000 naturally- reproducing adult Central Valley salmon every year – in addition to hatchery-raised fish.
This requirement has been largely ignored by state officials, who are under constant pressure from private agribusiness operations to take ever more salmon water. It’s time to start following this law.
After we know how much water is needed to restore the delta and sustain a thriving salmon fishery every year, agencies can calculate how much is available for other users. This will help planners determine how big to design any peripheral canal. It will also help water agencies plan conservation and water recycling projects to meet their needs.
State and federal agencies haven’t done these calculations yet. This should be the first step in planning what would be a very expensive canal.
The first version of this project was so poorly designed that fishery officials warned it would never qualify for permits needed to build it.
A second version is now being considered even though the basic water calculations still haven’t been done.
This question can’t be ducked. Water agencies want to know what they would get for billions in ratepayer dollars.
Regulatory agencies need to know how much water would be diverted to determine if the proposal complies with the law. And salmon fishermen know that the fate of our industry hangs in the balance.
Gov. Brown should tell his aides they can save a lot of time and money if they simply first do the math and calculate how much water is needed to restore the delta and salmon runs. Only then can they calculate a right-sized canal and the rest of a Delta plan.
The California commercial and recreational salmon fishing industry is worth an estimated $1.4 billion annually and tens of thousands of jobs.
It’s in the state’s interest to get this right, not rush it and wipe out our salmon runs and salmon jobs. Current law provides easy-to-follow guidance on how to plan for the future of the Delta and the state’s salmon fishery. Our advice: follow the law.
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Victor Gonella is the president of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, a coalition of salmon advocates that includes commercial and recreational salmon fishermen, businesses, restaurants, tribes, environmentalists, elected officials, families and communities that rely on salmon. GGSA’s mission is to protect and restore California’s largest salmon producing habitat comprised of the Central Valley rivers that feed both the Bay-Delta ecosystem and the communities that rely on salmon as a long-term, sustainable commercial, recreational and cultural resource.