Keywords:anadromous fish, biological opinion (BiOp), Central Valley Project (CVP), ecosystem management, endangered species, native fish, Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, upper watershed management
In 2014, the California Natural Resources Agency and the U.S. Department of the Interior asked the authors of this paper, as four former...
In 2014, the California Natural Resources Agency and the U.S. Department of the Interior asked the authors of this paper, as four former leaders of The Delta Science Program, to summarize the challenges faced by water supply and ecological resource managers in this critically important region of Northern California. They concluded that the challenges are so
complex as to meet the definition of a “wicked” problem. Such problems can’t be ignored, defy straightforward characterization, and have no simple solutions. Yet they must be actively managed to maximize
beneficial and minimize adverse outcomes.
In this context, the following paper calls for Delta management to become more nimble and better coordinated.
How Reducing Flows Harms the Ecosystems of San Francisco Bay and Coastal Waters The Bay Institute’s major new study, San Francisco Bay: The...
The Bay Institute’s major new study, San Francisco Bay: The Freshwater – Starved Estuary, documents how the ecological health of San Francisco Bay and the nearby ocean is at high risk because large-scale water diversion in the Bay’s watershed severely limits the amount of fresh water that reaches the Bay and alters the timing of that flow. Inflow to the Bay from its Central Valley watershed now averages less than half of what it would be without diversions; in some years just one-third of the runoff makes it to the Bay. The result is a nearly permanent drought for the Bay’s fish, wildlife, and their habitats. This radical alteration creates severe consequences for the Bay and marine ecosystems – and Bay Area residents pay the price.
The study shows how unsustainable diversion of the Bay’s freshwater inflow:
Dramatically cuts production of fish and shrimp that are the food source for marine mammals, like Orca Whales, and birds;
Allows pollutants to accumulate to dangerous levels and encourages blooms of toxic algae;
Reduces sediment supply to Bay Area wetlands and beaches;
Makes it easier for undesirable non-native species to successfully invade the Bay Estuary.
The San Francisco Bay Estuary is created by the mixing of fresh water from the Central Valley’s rivers with salt water from the Pacific Ocean. Dramatically reducing the inflow of fresh water generates cascading effects in the Bay’s watershed, the Bay itself, and coastal ocean waters.
The report’s major findings include:
On average, since 1975 more than half (53%) of runoff from the Central Valley watershed has been diverted, stored, or exported before it can reach the Bay – and in many years two-thirds or more of the Bay’s inflow is captured;
As a result of intensive water diversions, the Bay experiences catastrophically dry years almost half the time (only one “supercritically dry” year occurred naturally between 1975-2014, but the Bay experienced nineteen supercritical years during that period);
Numerous unrelated fish species – from sharks to salmon, from sturgeon to smelt – show strong positive correlations with Bay Inflow; many of these species are now endangered, and even commercially viable fisheries are in decline;
Predators that feed on flow-dependent fish and shrimp are feeling the pinch – for example, dwindling supplies of Central Valley Chinook salmon may restrict the recovery of the local Orca whale population;
Blooms of toxic “algae” (cyanobacteria) are becoming more frequent, and other pollutants are becoming more concentrated, as a result of reductions in freshwater flows from the Bay’s watershed;
Bay Area beaches and tidal wetlands are deprived of sediment that was once transported by high river flows.
The study reports that local businesses are likely to suffer from the Bay’s continued decline, including those related to commercial fishing and tourism. As our Bay, beaches, wetlands, and fish and wildlife populations deteriorate, the quality of life for many Bay Area residents will also be severely – and perhaps permanently – damaged.
The study identifies four important approaches to improving Bay inflows:
Update the State’s 21 year old water quality standards for the Bay Estuary to ensure adequate inflow
Require all those who divert water destined for the Bay, not just a subset, to contribute their fair share of fresh water to support benefits enjoyed by all Californians
Invest in local water supplies around the state including conservation, and recycling, that can generate millions of acre-feet of water and reduce reliance on water diverted from the Estuary and its watershed
Coordinate management of flows with wetland and beach restoration to more effectively protect shorelines
The study was prepared for the San Francisco Estuary Partnership, a coalition of resource agencies, non-profits, citizens, and scientists working to protect, restore, and enhance water quality and fish and wildlife habitat in and around the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary, which also provided the majority of funding for the project.
Resolution of the Delta’s water supply, water quality, and fish problems may involve building various structures, possibly including gates, pumps, canals, levees, and...
Resolution of the Delta’s water supply, water quality, and fish problems may involve building various structures, possibly including gates, pumps, canals, levees, and dams, and undertaking landscaping rearrangements to improve habitat for several species of flora and fauna. Resolution also involves changing water flow regimes in ways that would make more or less water, but probably less, available for human uses. This work and these changes will cost serious money. Cost estimates for many of these actions have not yet been developed.
This paper explores approaches to financing these “improvements” and “mitigations.” While a little abstract, this is abstraction that matters. It will determine from whose pockets a good deal of money will come.
California has a long history of financing water projects. The first section of this paper reviews this history, in hopes of identifying water-financing principles that might be adapted to Delta improvements and mitigation. Some deep-seated controversies about how Delta improvements should be financed have roots in this history, and it may be helpful to point them out.
A core idea in California’s approach to financing water projects is that beneficiaries should pay for them. Decades ago, this was a straightforward proposition – people or water districts should pay for the necessary dams, canals, and pumps and the costs of operating them in proportion to the amount of water they received. In the current age of rising environmental sensitivity, it is a little muddier. An alternative formulation that applies, at least crudely, to housing developments and highway projects, is that project proponents should pay to mitigate at least some of the environmental harm that their project is likely to cause. The second section of this paper explores this controversial subject. It seems unlikely that any consensus can be reached about how to finance facilities in the Delta without reaching some agreement about how to deal with this matter.
This paper was first issued in July, 2008. This version contains a few clarifications made in response to the Blue Ribbon Task Force’s reviewers. The author is grateful for their suggestions.
The Little Hoover Commission in a letter sent Friday to Governor Brown and the Legislature again renewed its call for urgent action at...
The Little Hoover Commission in a letter sent Friday to Governor Brown and the Legislature again renewed its call for urgent action at the Salton Sea to prevent a massive public health, environmental and economic disaster in Southern California.
Policymakers must replicate the effective approach taken to meet the state’s rewewable energy goals, wrote the Commission in its letter. Then, the Govenor gave a senior official the authority to do what it took to get projects through red tape at all levels of government. The model was remarkably simple: Get everyone together and get it done.
The letter results from continuing oversight to which the Commission pledged in its 2015 report, Averting Disaster: Action Now for the Salton Sea. The Commission held an April 2016 hearing to get an update on the state’s progress in strategically managing the Salton Sea. It heard from the assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy at the Natural Resources Agency, as well as stakeholders from local government and the environmental community.
The Commission’s letter acknowledges that momentum is building and that the state has made important progress in managing the sea, particularly with $80 million in funding in the Governor’s proposed 2016-17 budget. However, the Commission’s letter maintains that the state is not moving fast enough or allocating sufficient resources to prevent a disaster. Timelines have been delayed, short-term goals scarcely cover a fraction of exposed lakebed and much more than $80 million is needed to manage the sea.