Environmentalists call the new water diversion regulations “an extinction plan.”
Eight-hundred pages into the text of a lengthy new report, federal biologists have quietly granted government water managers permission to nearly exterminate an endangered run of Sacramento River salmon so they can send more water south from the river’s delta to farmers in the arid San Joaquin Valley.
The so-called biological opinion, released Oct. 21 by the National Marine Fisheries Service in tandem with a similar review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, analyzed the Trump Administration’s new water storage and delivery plan, which the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation unveiled in January. That plan proposes to increase water withdrawals from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta by roughly 10 percent, often during critical migration periods for fish like chinook salmon and Delta smelt.
Because the water-pumping plan could impact threatened and endangered species, the Endangered Species Act required federal fisheries and wildlife agencies to review and assess the proposal, which they’ve done in their biological opinions. Two environmentalists who have read the documents closely — all 1,300 pages of them —warn that the federal government’s plans spell big trouble for little fish.
Of particular concern is a brief clause on page 801 of the National Marine Fisheries Service report that allows annihilation of the winter-run Chinook for three consecutive years before limits on water transfers would be imposed. Because most Chinook salmon spawn and naturally die at three years of age, annihilation of all newborns in three consecutive years would effectively wipe out the species.