Salmon Aid Festival: A Fight to Save the Endangered Fish

Last weekend, the Delta water story took me to Oakland to attend the 2009 Salmon Aid Festival. The main event happened on Saturday, June 20 to Sunday, June 21, with a special Native American ceremonial salmon bake on Friday, June 19. More than two dozen organizations “including commercial, recreational and tribal fishermen, conservation organizations, chefs, restaurants, scientists, and many others” worked together to create Salmon Aid to “raise awareness of the plight of west coast salmon populations, the rivers and streams they spawn in, and the many coastal and inland communities that rely on salmon for their livelihoods and survival.” Salmon advocates came from California, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho, Nevada and other faraway places to support the event. The festival had education booths, activities, food, environmental film screenings and music to showcase the human connection to the fish as well as educate the public.

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I had the opportunity to interview Jessie Reader, a Salmon Aid event organizer. She is also an organizer for the Tuloumne River Trust, a Native American organization concerned about the salmon declines. Below is the Q & A interview.

What did you think of the event?

Bigger and better than last year, SalmonAid 2009 featured 10 great musical acts, including Bay Area favorite Afro-Dance Band Albino!. We had sustainable seafood from some of the West Coasts finest restaurants, film screenings from the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival, kids activities, and information from over two dozen organizations who work for sustainable salmon fishing and protection of our rivers and streams. Two sunny days brought out a great crowd from around Oakland and the Bay Area.

Was it a success? And why?

SalmonAid 2009 was a great success on a number of fronts. Working closely together to put on this event has significantly strengthened our unlikely but growing coalition of commercial fishing groups, recreational fishing groups, environmental organizations, and tribes. We built a platform for over 2 dozen organizations that would not have had the means to make such an outreach event happen on their own. Politically, we see that we are making an impact. Congressional Representative Barbara Lee sent a commendation, and Representative George Miller sent one of his senior staffers to read a statement of support. The festival mobilized over 1300 letters to President Obama and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Jane Lubchenco (the Federal Agency charged with enforcing the Endangered Species Act when it comes to Salmon) As we move forward, President Obama’s Administration and Congress will continue to hear from our many diverse groups speaking with one voice.

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CA Water Hearing Has Environmentalists Questioning Governor’s Commitment to Delta Water Quality

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Environmentalists concerned about the water quality of the Sacramento – San Joaquin River Delta are accusing California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s State Water Resources Control Board as “discarding long-existing regulations protecting water quality (and fisheries) in order to protect the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from their continuing violations of the Public Trust and Bay-Delta water quality standards.”

On Thursday, June 25, the California State Water Resources Control Board will hold a public hearing to determine whether to modify Order WR 2006-0006 that, in part, adopted a Cease and Desist Order (C&D) against the DWR and the Bureau. The Order basically enforces a water quality standard in the Delta. Like most of the debate surrounding the Delta, the standards go back a long way.

In order to measure and control the salinity levels in the Delta waters, the State Board adopted standards in 1978 and reaffirmed them in 1995 and 2006.  These Board standards required the DWR and the Bureau to implement the 0.7 mmhos/cm electrical conductivity (EC) water quality objective for agricultural beneficial uses applicable from April through August of each year at the interior southern Delta compliance locations (i.e., San Joaquin River at Brandt Bridge, Old River near Middle River, and Old River at Tracy Road Bridge).  These measures became known as the interior southern Delta salinity objectives (Order WR 2006-0006) and were adopted on February 16, 2006.

After its passage, the Board ordered DWR and the Bureau “to take corrective actions under a time schedule to obviate the threat of noncompliance with thier permit and license conditions.” This plan included implementing permanent barriers to control the salinity in the Delta. To comply, the DWR and Bureau submitted a plan and schedule to create permanent operable gate structures in the southern Delta through the South Delta Improvement Program (SDIP) by July 1, 2009. According to the State Board, this gate project was contingent upon environmental documentation, regulatory requirements and compliance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Since completion of the plan and schedule, the DWR and Bureau have failed to meet the salinity standards and install the permanent barriers. The organizations submitted various biological opinions from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service to the State Board, which stated the barriers could not be constructed for several more years—- thus, not meeting the July 1, 2009 deadline for compliance.

Environmentalists from organizations like the California Sport Fishing Alliance and Restore the Delta contend that the salinity standards were protective of the Delta agriculture and the aquatic ecosystem and must be enforced.

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Sacramento – San Joaquin River Delta Challenges Starting to Boil

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The age-old battle over “blue gold,” commonly known as water, is boiling over in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta – America’s Most Endangered River. Most analysts are calling it the fight between the people versus the fish. However, there is more to this battle than meets the eyes.

On the surface, the farmers, fishermen, urban users and environmentalists are all fighting over the dwindling water supply in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Overextended water rights, climate change, population growth, less snow pack runoff and drought conditions for the past three years has resulted in a decreased water supply. The dwindling river and continued water exports have put salmon, steelhead and green sturgeon fish populations on the endangered lists as well as the Northwest Pacific killer whales that rely on this food supply. For the past two years, salmon seasons have closed early because of the declining fish populations. As a result, federal judge Wanger had issued an executive order decreasing the amount of water exports for agricultural and urban uses to protect the fish populations.

Although the fishing industry is pleased with any decision to protect the fish, ecosystems and consequently their livelihoods, agribusiness users who rely on the exports are screaming bloody murder as their water exports are decreased, their crops threatened and their livelihoods hanging in the midst. And major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, which receives about 30 percent of its water from the Delta, stand to lose a portion of their dwindling water supply.

This past week, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a biological opinion that the Delta’s fish populations face “dire environmental conditions unless irrigation from the federal Central Valley Project and the California State Project – already at historic lows – are curtailed even further.”

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CB Green Report: Federal Bailout Won’t Make A Dent in Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Problems

California Water Salazar

Last week Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the federal government would provide California with $260 million to help update its antiquated water system and finance projects to relieve the state’s water woes. And California stands to receive a substantial portion of the $135 million in grants allocated for state water recycling and reuse programs. In essence, California is getting a water bailout.

There’s no questioning the fact that California’s water system needs the money. And with the recent placement of the Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta as the most endangered river system in the nation by American Rivers, it’s apparent that the state needs all the help it can get.

California’s massive system of reservoirs, pumps and canals, built a half century ago, was designed for a population half the size of the state’s 37.7 million, Salazar said after a helicopter tour of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the Associated Press.

However, the question that begs asking is – will the federal stimulus funds fix the Delta problems?

Spreck Rosekrans, an Economic Analyst for the Environmental Defense Funds, thinks the spending should be scrutinized because many of the problems associated with the environment in general and water projects in California and in the West in particular are that they’ve been paid for with subsidized dollars. And he bets that these projects would not have been cost-effective if the people who benefited from them had to pay for them. In fact, the projects would not have been constructed at all – like some of the California dams.

“We’ve sort of been on this campaign to get good sound economics into the environmental equation, said Rosekrans about the mission of the nonprofit organization, Environmental Defense Fund, which is known for using science to evaluate environmental problems as well as develop and advocate solutions in what many experts call a “nonpartisan, cost-efficient and fair” manner.

“Thinking that if we do so, we’ll make smarter choices. It’s not the only factor of course but it’s important.”

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CB’s Green Report: California’s Water System Gets Federal Bailout
Salazar & Schwarzenegger.jpg

Big news for California and its water supply — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar pledged $260 million in federal stimulus money to help California modernize its outdated water system and ease its water problems.

Salazar and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger went on a helicopter tour of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Wednesday. The federal official saw first-hand California’s overtaxed water system of reservoirs, pumps and canals (designed to supply water to only half of the state’s 37.7 million population), which were built more than 50 years ago.
The federal funds will help California deal with the drought and institute an updated system.

“It is time to modernize, it is time to make hard choices and it’s time for the federal government to re-engage in full partnership with the 21st century water system for the state of California,” he said to the Associated Press.

Salazar plans to use money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to create jobs in California and aid its water supply problems.

“From boosting water supplies and improving conservation to improving safety at our dams, these shovel-ready projects will make a real and immediate difference in the lives of farmers, businesses, Native American tribes and communities across California,” Salazar said to Reuters.

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CB’s Green Report: Restore The Delta Says Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Water Challenges Can Be Solved

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This week the American Rivers released its America’s Most Endangered Rivers reports and lists the Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta in California, which nearly 25 million Californians depend on for drinking water, in the number one spot. Thousands of farmers as well as the commercial and recreational fishing industries also depend on California’s single most important natural resource, according to the report.

American Rivers claims that this Delta is in bad shape because of the “outdated water supply and flood management systems have put at risk the ecosystem and thousands of Californian families and businesses that depend upon it.” The report also cites years of mismanagement, neglect and conflict as part of the Delta’s problem.

To save the natural resource, the report said that the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other water users must develop a workable, sustainable plan “to restore the ecosystem, secure water supplies and reduce the risk of floods.”

Many would call this water issue in the Central Valley of California a challenge. Others say there is an impossible fight being waged over the Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta. Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, the Campaign Director of Restore the Delta, sums up the entire situation by saying: “It’s the day of reckoning.”

At first glance, her statement may sound harsh. However, Barrigan-Parrilla explains that the major problem for the Delta is that the state water resources control board over the years has implemented water projects through the years, which move water in California from north to south, that granted water rights at about 8 1/2 times the total amount of water available – and that’s in a wet year.

“The way water rights have been distributed in California, and who has truthful access, is basically the equivalent of a ponzi scheme,” says Barrigan-Parrilla. “And that is the number one problem.”

With so little water available, there is no wonder people are fighting over it. And then, the situation gets even more complicated with increased pressures from population growth, water contamination due to farming practices, climate change and drought conditions (which are debatable according to Restore the Delta and Michael Fitzgerald of RecordNet.com.)

The fight for water comes from many concerned and effected parties in the Delta and beyond. And this is where Barrigan-Parrilla’s organization has gotten involved. According to Restore the Delta, their two and a half year old organization is attempting to work with all the groups – Delta residents, business leaders, civic organizations, community group, faith-based communities, union locals, farmers, fishermen and environmentalists – “to make the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta fishable, swimmable, drinkable, and farmable” for California. The group with more than 2,500 supporters also “seeks to strengthen the health of the estuary” and the Delta communities as well as “improve water quality so that fisheries and farming can thrive together again in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.” Given the situation, their goals sound not only incompatible but also somewhat impossible.

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CB’s Green Report: Drought Conditions Worsen Southwest Water Crisis

As if the fight over water from the Colorado River and Lake Mead could get any worse in the Southwest, the area is facing extreme drought conditions. A recent USA Today article reports that January and February 2009 are the driest beginning of any year since America started keeping precipitation records over a century ago. These low water levels are causing severe droughts in Texas and California, which exacerbates the water crisis in the Southwest.

USA-Today-drought-map-320.jpg

The map reflects the exceptional (brown-red), extreme (orange) and severe (dark yellow) water problems in California, Nevada and Texas.

USA-Today-Precipitation-Map320.jpg

Richard Heim, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center told USA Today that the 2.69-inch average rainfall across the U.S. in January and February is the least amount of moisture in those months since NOAA began keeping records in 1895.

USA-Today-Drought-Record-sm.jpg

The current dry spell started in Central Texas in 2007, and hit California along with the rest of the Southwest in 2006. Los Angeles only received 3 inches of rain during 2006-2007, its driest year on record.

As a result of these prolonged drought conditions in California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a drought emergency in February 2009.  For the first time in 15 years, Los Angeles is planning to implement a water rationing system – achieved “through price-enforced household conservation and tough new lawn watering restrictions.”

“The level of severity of this drought is something we haven’t seen since the early 1970s,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in unveiling his city’s drought plan, which also would put more water cops on the beat.

And to save endangered fish populations, the courts are reducing the amount of water taken from rivers (Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta water source in Northern California). Water officials also decided to cut their Sierra Mountains water source pumped to cities and irrigation districts by 85 percent according to Reuters. These measures highlights the growing tensions between farms/agricultural water uses and animals as well farms/agricultural versus urban/metropolitan water needs.

Thus, another major loser in the water fight are farmers and ranchers.

California farmers lost more than $300 million in 2008 and economic losses may accelerate to 10 times that this year as 95,000 people lose their jobs. Farmers will get zero water from the main federal supplier (Reuters).

As farms continue to suffer, major Southwest cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix are growing in population. People are moving to the warm sunbelt.

“For the last few years, the driest states, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada, have been the fastest growing. And you know that can’t be sustained,” said James Powell to Reuters.  Powell is the author of “Dead Pool,” a book about global warming and water in the U.S. West.

It’s not surprising that California, the world’s eighth-largest economy, uses enough water to cover the state of Washington in a foot of water.  And approximately 80 percent of the water is used by farms growing crops like organic lettuce and rice. The drought induced water cutback to the farms will cause a dramatic decrease in California’s agricultural production —- which has serious economic implications as well as food supply ramifications.

And to make matters even worse, the droughts are making California more vulnerable to wildfires.  Last year, a record 500,000 Southern Californians had to vacate their homes because of fires.

State officials are using prison inmate crews to clear away brush and create fire breaks around communities to reduce the risk of wildfires, said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (USA Today).

A water shortage, drought conditions, fewer crops and the potential for fires is a red flag for an impending disaster.




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  • profileCARAMEL BELLA: This is my place to write about my adventures and mis-adventures in this thing called life. I discuss my passions: the environment, politics, art & culture, writing as well as yoga, health and spirituality. The one thing you can expect from this blog is that it is not what you expected. Thanks for reading! To reach me email thecaramelbella at gmail.

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