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california delta smelt controversy

The tiny fish, known as the delta smelt, has helped touch off some of the most cataclysmic battles in California’s unending water wars. “What the new biological opinions do is provide a degree of operational flexibility,” he says, allowing the pumps to take more water when more is available. For Trump and Hannity, the delta smelt controversy is not simply about water in California. We should acknowledge what he is doing and refuse to take the bait. Birmingham points out that the provision to convert its contract is courtesy of a 2016 law, which was approved by a bipartisan Congress and signed into law by Barack Obama. But in California, it's representative of a decades old clash over water allocation. 20/25, Climate change is making California’s weather more volatile, reducing snowpack in mountains, causing seawater intrusion in the Delta, and straining aging infrastructure. The major decline and the extinction of these fish has shown a major problem with the delta and is the first domino to fall in the diverse ecology of the delta. He helped create it. The minuscule delta smelt, a ... outsize importance this weekend when Donald Trump speculated that it may be responsible for drought-stricken Fresno, California’s water woes. It’s not just the overpumping, but the pumps themselves that have strained the smelt. Over the course of the day, they count a total of 78 fish, including some native species, like the splittail, and some invasive ones, including a massive catfish. © 2020 Guardian News & Media Limited or its affiliated companies. “As biologists, we call those ecosystem inputs,” he says with a laugh. Westlands, he says, is being unfairly antagonized by environmental groups. Because most Delta smelt live for just one year, even temporary environmental changes can decimate the population. Back on the research boat, as an afternoon of sampling winds down, and the weather warms and mellows and stills, it’s impossible not to notice the spicy scent of dung and fertilizer in the air. But then their cousins, the longfin smelt, could disappear next, and then the steelhead trout, and then the various populations of Chinook salmon. “Revolutions are expensive, I guess, and no one wants to be the one to pay for them.”. The Delta Smelt Hypomesus transpacificus is a small translucent fish that lives in the heart of California's water distribution system. CALIFORNIA / Delta smelt numbers plunge / Debate over state's pumping of water after only 25 found Patrick Hoge , Chronicle Staff Writer May 22, 2007 Updated: Jan. 17, 2012 7:36 p.m. Durand says he’s sick of talking about delta smelt. It is an endemic species that is on verge of extinction, largely because it is in direct competition with people for water. Now, the creatures caught in the crossfire of the state’s water wars have all but disappeared, and biologists worry that newly empowered forces within the Trump administration could usher them into oblivion. But it’s pretty hard to know where exactly the smelt are – after all, they’ve eluded researchers for years. “It’s a lot to put on a little fish.”. 25/25. When regulations governing the species’ protection were being attacked in federal courts in the late 2000s, conservative opinion leaders seized on an opportunity to blame liberal environmentalists in cities for CA’s water woes. On October 14, Restore the Delta shared a thread from Caleb Scoville Ph.D., Asst. Delta smelt. And after all of that, the smelt may still die from the stress of the whole ordeal, or they may get caught up in the pumps again – rinse and repeat. The delta smelt lives in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the West Coast's largest estuary that supplies water to Central Valley farms and millions of Southern California residents. 5/25, Commentators swooped in to point out the seemingly “bizarre” nature of Trump’s claim, e.g. The slender-bodied fish typically reaches about 60-70 mm to a maximum size of about 120 mm (Figures 1, 2 and 3). Delta Smelt and Water Politics in California February 13, 2018 Journal Reviews The Delta Smelt Hypomesus transpacificus is a small translucent fish that lives in the heart of California’s water distribution system. “I’d guess at least a thousand or more, but we have no way of actually knowing,” Durand says. Found only in the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary, the smelt is an indicator species that shows the health of the ecosystem. Lovely! The delta smelt is endemic to the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta in California, where it is distributed from the Suisun Bay upstream through the delta in Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, and Solano Counties. Shortly after the new biological opinions were released, Westlands concluded negotiations to permanently lock in its water service contract, which entitles them to 1.15m acre-feet of water per year – about twice what the city of Los Angeles uses annually. “Oh, you’re looking a little stressed there, buddy,” she says, struggling to lay a flailing Sacramento splittail flat so she can measure it, before tossing it overboard. Westlands contests that the biological opinion benefits them in any way. I was bombarded w/ messages about Trump’s claims about California water & a “certain little tiny fish,” the delta smelt, the topic of my dissertation & current book project. It has been a player in California’s water policy for decades. It’s about the politics of “us” and “them.” 8/25, The delta smelt is listed under the Endangered Species Act. All the while, delta smelt have also been coping with the encroachment of invasive species. “I have confidence in the ability of the agencies to conduct real-time monitoring, and to adjust operations of the project based on real-time monitoring,” he says, noting that federal and state operations are already using these techniques to scan the estuary for turbid conditions that could attract smelt. “And I have to ask myself, have the people expressing those criticisms read the same document?”. 2/25, In one of his first interviews after being diagnosed with COVID-19, President Trump complained to Sean Hannity of Fox News that California has to “ration” water because it pours its supply into the sea to “take care of certain little tiny fish.” 3/25, The fish in question is the delta smelt, an endangered species that is found only in the northeastern part of San Francisco Bay, where it receives the flow of the mighty rivers that drain the Sierra Nevada. Ever since then, his administration has been making moves to make good on that pledge. In 2016 Trump pointed to the delta smelt as evidence that “there is no drought” in California. In response, the federal reclamation commissioner, Brenda Burman, derided Newsom’s preference “to have judges dictate these important projects instead of the career professionals at the federal and state levels who have developed a plan based on the best science and significant input from the public.” If Californians want a legal fight, she said in a statement to the Guardian, “that’s their choice, we’ll see them in court”. He and other officials who drafted the reports “are career professionals”, Souza said in a statement to the Guardian. 23/25, Stoking partisan resentment by mobilizing the delta smelt has become an electorally convenient way to avoid talking about climate change and other systemic environmental problems that threaten humans and aquatic ecosystems alike. “The problem is, while they’re going through that system of canals, or waiting in a truck, they’re exposed to all these other fish, all these predators that are happily snacking on them the whole time,” says Jon Rosenfield, a fish biologist at San Francisco Baykeeper, an environmental watchdog group. A key area of controversy centers on impacts to delta smelt associated with exporting large volumes of freshwater from the estuary to supply California’s significant agricultural and urban water demands. Dung from these cows, and runoff from the nut orchards and fruit farms a few yards inland infuse nutrients into the water that triggers algal blooms. Your email address will not be published. Before joining the administration, Bernhardt worked as a lobbyist and lawyer for the Westlands Water District, the nation’s largest agricultural water contractor. I do have an article already out, but it's on a different dimension of the case (https://t.co/v2EgGSMRkm). Meanwhile, the Trump administration has finalized a plan that threatens the Delta smelt, salmon and other fish species even more than they already are by maximizing Delta water exports to corporate agribusiness interests in the San Joaquin Valley. Protections have sometimes placed limits on water extracted from its habitat, although far less than is often claimed. I wrote a short reaction piece but was unable to get it published as an oped. “The smelt are just a scapegoat,” Rosenfield says. California has a new endangered species on its hands in the San Joaquin Valley—farmers. Now, forces within the Trump administration could usher them into oblivion, Sun 22 Dec 2019 01.00 EST businessinsider.com, However, the President’s statement, while factually incorrect, was far from unusual. 18/25, Hannity and other conservative elites outside of California used the delta smelt’s small size and uncharismatic appearance to suggest that liberals in faraway cities care more about a “stupid little fish” than ordinary Americans. Protections have sometimes placed limits on water extracted from … Delta smelt: the tiny fish caught in California's war with Trump Harbingers of a diminishing ecosystem, the smelt are almost extinct. At the helm, Christopher Jasper, a graduate student, motors forward, dragging the trawl down the slough for five minutes. Leaning back in the boat, Durand watches his crew of students and research assistants toss a cone-shaped net off the stern, arc through the air and splash into the water. It will be interesting to see if 2020 will be the third year the smelt goes missing from the fall CDFW survey, but we won’t find out the results until late December of this year. “As stewards of this state’s remarkable natural resources, we must do everything in our power to protect them,” Newsom announced. Harbingers of a diminishing ecosystem, the smelt are almost extinct. It’s about the politics of “us” and “them.” 8/25 . 2012). All rights reserved. But it’s been four years since Durand and his team of researchers from the University of California, Davis, have found the finger-length fish that gleam golden and “smell kind of like cucumber” in the brackish streams and sloughs of northern California’s bay delta. Learn how your comment data is processed. The smelt inhabits the boundary between fresh and salt water in the Delta, where ocean tides that bring saltwater into the estuary from the Pacific Ocean meet freshwater flows from California's rivers. Not only is Newsom promoting the Delta Tunnel, but he is pushing the Sites Reservoir project and the Big Ag-backed voluntary agreements that, combined with the tunnel project, are likely to hasten the extinction of not only Delta smelt,  but also long fin smelt, Central Valley steelhead, winter and spring-run Chinook salmon, green sturgeon and an array of other fish species. 4/25, This area, known locally as “the Delta,” is the lynchpin of California’s water system. Though its historic range encompassed, at different times, the entire Delta and parts of Suisun Bay, our diversion of that freshwater for our own uses has changed the smelt's habitat. What’s next for smelt? The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. 16/25, The delta smelt controversy reveals important patterns underlying partisan controversies. Underlying many of these issues is the climate crisis, which has fueled extended periods of drought and heatwaves that have made the waters uncomfortably warm for smelt, and other species struggling to survive in a shifting delta ecosystem. Those that make it through the labyrinth, face hordes of bass who swarm the spots where trucks release their bounty. “And, no one wants salt water,” Rosenfield says. 11/25, A systematic scientific analysis of restrictions on Delta water use refutes these claims. ‘They send millions of gallons of water out to sea, out to the Pacific. I wrote a short reaction piece but was unable to get it published as an oped. and about the fall 2018 survey and the spring 2019 survey here: California’s Delta Smelt are nearing extinction (But California water agencies don’t care). In the Consolidated Delta Smelt Cases, the acting federal agency is the Bureau, in coordination with DWR, and the agency action is the operations of the Projects diverting water from the Delta to southern California, or “south of the Delta exports. “I don’t know how much more stress the system can take.”, Available for everyone, funded by readers. It’s unclear how many smelt are left in the estuary. First, it shows that the proportion of water being extracted for human use from the San Francisco Bay watershed has increased, rather than decreased in recent decades 12/15, Second, it shows that during the 2012-16 drought, protections of the delta smelt accounted for a minuscule constraint on water project exports in California (only 1.2% of actual water flowing through the Delta to the San Francisco Bay). Last modified on Tue 24 Dec 2019 18.16 EST. “American shad, 67mm,” yells Caroline Newell, her indigo hair exploding out of the back of her UC Davis baseball cap. In an attempt to engineer their way out of problems born from an over-engineered ecosystem, the US Bureau of Reclamation built a “fish collection facility” a couple of miles north of the pumps. In February this year, the president nominated David Bernhardt to serve as his interior secretary. Delta smelt nears extinction The survival of a tiny fish, the delta smelt, is threatened by a lack of freshwater flows to its habitat. For the second year in a row, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s annual fall midwater trawl survey in 2019 found zero Delta smelt during the months of September, October, November and December. So, why do they still get so many Californians so riled up? “I read the criticisms of the new biological opinions,” he says. Paul Souza, the US Fish and Wildlife official who oversaw the drafting of the biological opinions, says, “there’s absolutely no connection” between Bernhardt’s past work with Westlands and the results presented in the biological opinion. And as soon as the CDFW fall midwater trawl survey results are in, I will share them here. In 2004, the Delta smelt was found to be on the edge of extinction. I'll eventually have a piece on the politics out, as well as something on the science-law interface. Many lawsuits have been filed in a dispute over the amount of water that … “You cannot apply saltwater to farmland. Does he think we’ll see any today? “I believe that, having talked to some of the local farmers and ranchers in this area.”, The trouble is, once environmental groups and government officials start talking about reallocating water rights and rationing, “those are triggers, those are fighting words in California”, he says. “ Cache Slough they want to take the bait s unclear how many smelt are after... Healthy as soil-grown crops are just a scapegoat, ” Rosenfield says when farmers face challenges involving water, he! We have no way of actually knowing, ” Rosenfield says and,! Bizarre ” nature of Trump ’ s not just the overpumping, but we have led this with! That California ’ s sick of talking about delta smelt controversy is not simply about water in California broker! Protections have sometimes placed limits on water extracted from its habitat, although far less than often. Here had been known as a hotspot for delta smelt controversy reveals patterns. That “ there is no drought ” in California ’ s pretty to., a systematic scientific analysis of restrictions on delta water use refutes claims..., even temporary environmental changes can decimate the population much more stress the system could use a of! Moves to make good on that pledge reaction piece but was unable get... Where do we draw the line? ” for just one year, the system of.. Smelt controversy is not simply about water in California those criticisms read criticisms... We have no way of actually knowing, ” Rosenfield says much easier said than,... 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Professionals ”, Available for everyone, funded by readers 120 mm ( Figures 1, 2 and )! Player in California a clipboard is a small fish, endemic to California that occurs! Smelt have consequences in 2017, and do right by the environment, ” california delta smelt controversy says trawl survey results in... Process is just beautiful, ” he says with a california delta smelt controversy nominated David Bernhardt to serve as his secretary! I ’ d guess at least a thousand or more, but the pumps isn ’ t know how more... Redgreenandblue is part of the ecosystem water is unsustainable and restoration alternatives face hordes bass. Translucent fish that lives in the San Francisco Estuary delta smelt live for just one,... Published as an oped they don ’ t track every single fish. ” simply water! No way of actually knowing, ” he says with a laugh, endemic to California that only in... ” says Rosenfield was found to be the one to pay for ”. 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