Water Grab Threatens California’s Salmon with Extinction

San Joaquin River Exchange contractors demand reckless waivers that sacrifice the future of California’s fishing industry


Trent Orr, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2000, ext. 2082


Michael Coats, Golden Gate Salmon Association, (707) 935-6203


Jackie Wei, Natural Resources Defense Council, (310) 434-2300


Courtney Sexton, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-0253


Jon Rosenfield, The Bay Institute, (510) 684-4757

A group of agribusiness interests in the San Joaquin Valley urged Secretaries Sally Jewell and Penny Pritzker to green-light plans to increase freshwater pumping from the Delta to maximum levels, placing California’s critically endangered salmon at risk of extinction. The demand for more freshwater comes at a time in which the diversion of what little water is left in the system during the historic drought will cause maximum harm to the already critically endangered winter run salmon, threatened spring run salmon and steelhead, and to the fishing community. This request would not only violate state and federal laws designed to protect Delta water quality and ecosystems that rely on the Delta for their survival, but it also asks Governor Jerry Brown and the Obama Administration to abandon efforts to balance all of the various water needs equally, instead putting the needs of a select few agribusiness interests above everyone else.

The request came from the San Joaquin River Exchange contractors, a group that the state has allocated a generous 40% of their contract water supply this year, even though most other water contractors received 0% allocation of water this year due to the drought. Yet the Exchange Contractors are still thirsty for more. Not only are these special interests seeking to elevate their needs above all others in the State, what’s worse is that documents prepared by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation indicate they are unlikely to even use the water; instead they plan to sell it to the highest bidder, reaping windfall profits at the expense of scarce public resources.

Said Trent Orr, Earthjustice attorney:
“The salmon are not only an important part of the Central Valley’s aquatic ecosystems, but also a critical source of income for thousands of people who depend on salmon fishing for their livelihoods. These people are not subsidized, like the welfare farmers in the San Joaquin Valley and the billionaire farmers from Beverly Hills who already receive millions in subsidies every year and are now demanding water that isn’t there. The middle of a historic drought is not the time to be adding to the already enormous stresses on the salmon and people that depend on them.”

Said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association:
“The salmon industry is trying to dodge bullets in this drought with wild stocks getting hammered in drought-stricken rivers. Although hatcheries are trucking fish to evade the drought, the salmon fishing industry faces future shutdown due to harm being done to federally protected wild winter and spring run salmon being sucked into the Delta pumps. The future of California’s salmon depends on these flows being allowed to function as nature provided and not sucked into giant pumps that spell death to natural resources that belong to all Californians. Sharing water to address human health and safety needs is something all Californians can support, but this request is entirely different.”

Said Kate Poole, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council:
“We urge Governor Brown and Secretaries Jewell and Pritzker to uphold state and federal laws meant to protect water quality and fisheries and refuse the requested waivers by the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors. Our leaders should not support water supply demands that directly undermine the law and sacrifice California’s 150-year old fishing economy and the Delta’s ecological health. We have much better solutions available than this short-sighted, self-serving water grab.”

Said Jon Rosenfield, a fish biologist with The Bay Institute:
“With reservoirs so low, next year’s spawning salmon and their eggs are at great jeopardy too. Loss of the salmon that are trying to make it out of the Central Valley now poses an unacceptable risk to the continued existence of winter run and spring run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead and sturgeon and other species that are unique to San Francisco Bay Estuary – once they’re gone, they’re gone forever. If we can’t rely on our fish and wildlife agencies to enforce laws that protect imperiled species, then we can be sure that proposals such as the Governor’s twin tunnels will never be operated responsibly.”

Said Zeke Grader of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations:
“In a nutshell the government is being asked to risk our valuable native salmon stocks and sacrifice thousands of sustainable fishing jobs and the economies of fishing communities all for a small group of wealthy water profiteers” “That is unconscionable”

Said Kim Delfino of Defenders of Wildlife:
“There are no quick and easy solutions to California’s current drought and it will take all interests working together to address the drought’s impacts on fish, wildlife and people. Choosing to send water to select agribusinesses at a time that could spell doom for endangered salmon will only plunge California back into the water wars that Governor Brown and the Obama Administration have worked so hard to avoid. We need to do better if we are to come together this year for the necessary fixes to California’s water system.”

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