‘Still an opportunity’ to save the smelt?

Shortly before state water officials announced today that most urban water providers will no longer be subject to mandatory conservation targets, three environmental groups pleaded with the same panel for emergency flows through the Delta to prevent extinction of the smelt.

It’s normal for some smelt to die off this time of year as juveniles mature into adults, Jon Rosenfield, a conservation biologist with The Bay Institute, told the State Water Resources Control Board.

But something must be done to help a larger share of those babies make it to adulthood this year, he said. Most smelt live only one year, meaning every year is critical to the continuation of the species.

Additional flows would push saltwater back toward Suisun Bay. The smelt, which usually hang out near where freshwater meets saltwater, would head west and thus escape the predator-choked open channels of the interior Delta, among other benefits.

“There is still an opportunity to act to improve survival of this species,” Rosenfield told the board.

Despite understanding the need, water managers have allowed the saltier water to linger farther to the east this summer, the enviros say. And extra water that was promised for smelt about a month ago has not yet materialized.

Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council joined The Bay Institute in formally asking the water board last week for an emergency regulation that would increase Delta outflow to “avoid irreparable harm to the public trust.”

It is widely known that the smelt are close to disappearing from this planet. According to the environmentalists’ petition, the smelt was already at a record-low population in 2014; then, in 2015, the fish plummeted another 90 percent.

It’s unclear precisely where the proposed additional flows would come from. The environmentalists suggest tapping reservoirs other than Lake Shasta, whose supply is critical to keeping the Sacramento River cool for endangered winter-run salmon. They also suggest limiting downstream diversions and reducing exports from the Delta.

Their plan drew a stinging response last week from the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, a coalition of water districts that relies on Delta exports. The authority calls the concept of more Delta outflow a “more of the same” approach.

“Despite all of the sacrifice, billions of dollars spent, and millions of acre-feet of water dedicated to Delta smelt, their population decline continues unabated,” the statement says. “Farmers, fishermen, and environmentalists — everyone that truly cares about the status of our imperiled fisheries — should be furious. Decades old state and federal policies have failed and brought Delta smelt and salmon to the brink of extinction.”

On that last sentence, perhaps, some enviros and farmers can agree. But for vastly different reasons.

Water board officials said they will discuss the request.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form.
  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Latest Tweets