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Federal fish biologists are right

By John McManus

The other day, Gov. Jerry Brown said his proposal to tunnel under the Delta to transfer more water south was being held up by low-level, federal fish biologists. Brown said, “lower level [Federal] officials” aren’t being helpful … in fact quite the opposite.”

The governor was repeating something first uttered by Tom Birmingham, manager of the Westlands Water District. Birmingham complained about these same federal biologists to members of his water district two weeks prior. Birmingham went a step further and said legislation would be needed to silence scientific and biologic concerns federal fish scientists are raising.

Salmon communities have seen this movie before.

The Golden Gate Salmon Association, salmon fishermen and related businesses, learned quite a bit about efforts to gag federal fish biologists in 2004. Then, federal salmon biologists were asked to sign off on a plan to take more northern California water and hand it over, mostly to San Joaquin Valley growers. The biologists were asked how this would affect two runs of federally-protected salmon. They said taking more salmon water would jeopardize the continued existence of the salmon. This was not the answer the San Joaquin growers wanted, so they leaned on their political connections in the George W. Bush administration and managed to get the jeopardy finding overruled. The federal official who forced the reversal was subsequently given a promotion.

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