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This past week a number of federal, state, and local agencies took a significant first step toward negotiation of Voluntary Agreements (VAs) that could be the basis for implementing updated water quality objectives for California’s Bay-Delta. This is a notable milestone but much work remains. The participating agencies must agree upon the details of the VAs, and ultimately, the State Water Resources Control Board must consider whether to adopt the VAs as the means to implement the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan. The memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by the VA parties, and the term sheet attached to the MOU, explain the intent of those parties to present VAs to […]
American shad are the Chinook salmon of herring. Like Chinook salmon, adult American shad spend several years in the ocean before returning to rivers for spawning — they’re anadromous. Also, like salmon, anglers love shad because they’re fun to catch and good to eat. Well, okay, shad are not as good to eat as ocean caught salmon, but they are delicious when prepared well.  American shad are native to the east coast of North American. They were introduced to the Sacramento River after repeated releases of shad fry — transported via the then newly completed transcontinental railroad — between 1871 and 1880. Shad quickly became abundant in the Sacramento River […]
For the past three decades, the federal and California governments and diverse stakeholders have looked to scientists to explain the causes of the long-term population declines in fish species native to California’s Bay-Delta in an effort to chart a course to conserve those species. Water agencies across the State have invested billions of dollars in data collection and scientific research with the hope of finding clear answers to vexing problems stemming from more than a century of large-scale environmental change to the Pacific Coast’s most expansive estuary. Armed with a sense of urgency, regulatory agencies have felt the compulsion to act. “Clean narratives” sometimes supplied by scientists, but more often […]
Adaptive resource management is widely acknowledged as the de rigueur approach to the management of natural resources. It is a form of structured decision-making that facilitates use of the best available scientific information by resource managers, and it draws approval from the involvement of stakeholders in its design and implementation. So, when the Delta Reform Act of 2009 identified adaptive management as the format and approach to resource management, the State of California showed a commitment to ensuring that the best professional standards of resource-management practice would be used to address the damaged ecosystems and imperiled species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and adjacent San Francisco Bay.  The Act is anchored by […]
Even that fraction of the public that is the least interested in California’s environmental health likely has heard of the delta smelt — the imperiled fish of the upper San Francisco Estuary. The diminutive fish that’s launched way more than its share of controversy. The fish that appears to be inching closer to extinction by the month.  To be sure, the delta smelt’s numbers are in decline. And the apparent causes are many. The most abundant fishes in the Delta are non-native species that both compete with and prey upon the delta smelt. Contaminants known and unknown poison its waters. Summer-time water temperatures, increasing in real time with climate change, […]
Recently, at the direction of the Biden White House, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service proposed to rescind a Trump-era rule that defines the term “habitat” for the purpose of informing the designation of “critical habitat” by those two agencies under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). While the federal wildlife agencies offer certain rationales for the proposed rescission, there is no question that the primary motivation is to provide discretion to federal wildlife agency regions, offices, and line staff to make ad hoc determinations regarding the meaning of the term “habitat.” This shift away from an explicit definition of habitat that provides for transparency and consistency […]
California is at the southern boundary of the distributions of cold-water dependent fish species like salmon and steelhead. In many California rivers, flows and water temperatures challenge the performance and survival of salmonids even in years with average levels of precipitation. Drought and warmer summer air temperatures associated with climate change further exacerbate those stresses.  At and above the Sierra Nevada foothills, Central Valley rivers are heavily regulated.  The dams there provide a variety of benefits for humans — water supply, flood control, hydropower, and recreation — but have some predictable and well-understood adverse impacts on salmonid populations. Dams block upstream passage of adult salmonids, preventing those anadromous fishes from reaching […]
On his first day in office, January 20, 2021, President Biden issued an Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis.  In that Order, the President stated that “the Federal Government must be guided by the best science and be protected by processes that ensure the integrity of Federal decision-making.”  He went on to direct all federal agencies to address federal actions during the prior four years that conflict with that objective.  In an accompanying list of agency actions for review, the President identified precisely two biological opinions that his Administration would review to determine if they were “guided by the best science” and adopted […]
Recently, the Interagency Ecological Program (IEP) — an interagency consortium charged “to provide and integrate relevant and timely ecological information for management of the Bay-Delta” — released a report presenting data and studies regarding a major conservation action for delta smelt, referred to as the Fall X2 Action. The Fall X2 Action purports to benefit the delta smelt during the autumn by increasing outflow through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta during that period in years where there is above normal precipitation in the preceding winter and spring.  Increasing outflow through the Delta moves the position of the tidally influenced low-salinity zone westward. The federal and state wildlife agencies contend that this action […]
In the 1981 blockbuster film “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, the nefarious French archaeologist Belloq holds up a cheap pocket watch and explains to Indiana Jones “It’s worthless. Ten dollars from a vendor in the street.  But I take it, I bury it in the sand for a thousand years, it becomes priceless…” Here in the Delta, fisheries monitoring data are treated a lot like Belloq’s watch. An ancient, sandy watch isn’t valued for keeping precise time. Just the same, long-term fisheries monitoring data aren’t necessarily valued because they provide information effective for monitoring and managing Delta fishes. Consider one of the simplest fisheries monitoring tools; the seine, a length of net […]
Monitoring serves two essential purposes when it comes to fish and wildlife conservation. First, it informs our understanding of the status and trend of populations that we want to conserve and recover. Second, it informs the design and implementation of conservation measures to benefit those populations and allows resource managers to assess the effectiveness of such measures.  Absent monitoring, we are guided by intuition, surmise, or plain faith in determining whether we should intervene to protect a species and how we should go about doing so. While delta smelt have been protected under the California and federal Endangered Species Acts for almost three decades and federal and state regulatory agencies have […]
Recently, Courthouse News Service reported on a case pending in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit involving dredging of portions of the San Francisco Estuary and impacts from those activities on fishes protected under state and federal Endangered Species Acts. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, faced with the never-ending challenge of keeping shipping corridors open to large vessels in the San Francisco Bay, the Delta, and lower Sacramento and the San Joaquin rivers, have an ongoing consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intended to minimize dredging impacts on longfin smelt, delta smelt, steelhead, and several Chinook salmon runs. The Corps […]
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