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CSPA Editorial May 26, 2010 

Federal Court Ruling Allows Salmon Slaughter To Begin!

By John Beuttler, CSPA Conservation Director
May 26, 2010 -- In a highly controversial ruling, Federal Judge Oliver Wanger has reversed his previous ruling on the Biological Opinions that protect listed salmon and steelhead.

The plight of Central Valley salmon and steelhead just took a huge step toward disaster due to this ruling. You may recall that the collapse of the Winter-run, Spring-run Chinook salmon and steelhead, resulted in their listing under the Endangered Species Act. What you may not know is the unmitigated impacts of the state and federal projects are an important causative factor in their decline.

The Wanger ruling appears to rest upon his definition of what is or isn’t “sufficient scientific information” to support the reductions in water exported from the Delta that NMFS and a bevy of independent scientists have supported as the best science available to protect these listed salmon and steelhead.

Among the impacts not mitigated by the water projects is the damage they have done to how water flows through the estuary. The projects have completely altered the timing of such flows into and through the Delta. They have also significantly reduced the amount of water that flows out of the Delta to the Ocean. In addition, they have altered the direction of the flow so that instead of all the water flowing from the tributaries to the sea (east to west), a great deal of the water now flows to a large extent from the tributaries to the southern Delta where it is exported. In good water years that export has exceed 6 million acre feet.

The problem this poses for salmon is that the river’s natural migration corridors used by salmon smolts trying to get to the ocean have been altered by the pumping impacts that occur when water is exported out of the Delta. During important out-migration periods these migration routes no longer carry many of the young salmon to the sea. Instead, the projects pull the fish out of their natural migration corridors and carry them into the central and southern Delta. If they survive, they continue to the export pumping facilities. While we know of no accurate estimate of the losses that occur due to this, some estimates place that loss at two to three million smolts annually. When these losses are combined with the direct losses due to the design and operation of the water projects pumping facilities, it is estimated that an additional million salmon perished annually.

Wanger’s ruling to not protect ESA listed salmon out-migration from the impacts of the pumps is, in part, a reversal of his previous ruling that required new biological opinions from the National Marine Fishery Service and the US Fish & Wildlife Service that he mandated to be based on the best available science. He made this ruling based on evidence that conclusively demonstrated appointed bureaucrats under the Bush administration had illegally revised the biological opinions when they overruled essential biological science to enabled significant increases in Delta exports and further declines in the listed salmonids.

Ironically, the Department of Fish and Game just released 2 million salmon smolts from its Nimbus Hatchery on May 11th. For the next few weeks these and many millions of wild fall run smolts are attempting to migrate through the Delta to the ocean. With the export pumping ramping up to full bore as permitted by the court’s decision. it will mean many of them will be heading to their death.

Compounding the injury is the fact that the water projects do not mitigate the damages caused by the “indirect impacts” of their projects. There will not be any mitigation for the salmon lost to due to the projects impacts on out-migrating salmon. If three to four years from now the salmon season is closed because not enough smolts made it to the ocean, there will not be any mitigation for that loss to the public, the fishing industry and the folks who are put out of work, or the people who want to use their legal right under the State Constitution to fish in the waters of the state.

More from the Contra Costa Times, Mike Taugher