The Big Ag money behind the estuary’s collapse
As the Delta smelt and other fish species move closer and closer to extinction in the wild, Governor Newsom, like California governors before him, has done little to stop the smelt’s slide towards extinction, but has instead promoted water policies that will only hasten the extinction of the Delta smelt, longfin smelt, Central Valley steelhead, spring and winter-run Chinook salmon and other fish species.
Could that be because of the hundreds of thousands of dollars he has received from corporate agribusiness interests that support increasing water exports from the Delta rather than decreasing them?
Governor Newsom received a total of $755,198 in donations from agribusiness in 2018, based on the data from www.followthemoney.org. That figure includes $579,998 in the agriculture donations category, combined with another $116,800 from Beverly Hills agribusiness tycoons Stewart and Lynda Resnick, owners of the Wonderful Company and the largest orchard fruit growers in the world, and $58,400 from E.J. Gallo.
By fast-tracking the Delta Tunnel, supporting the voluntary water agreements, hiring grower William Lyons as a special “agriculture liaison” to the Governor’s Office, overseeing the issuing of a draft EIR that increases water exports for the state and federal projects rather than reducing them and releasing a controversial water portfolio that includes fast-tracking the Sites Reservoir, Newsom is apparently bending to the will of his agribusiness donors and sending Delta smelt, longfin smelt, Sacramento winter-run and spring-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead and other fish species to the scaffold.
The prospects for the survival of Delta smelt, imperiled salmon and other fish species are grim unless the state and federal governments allow more quality water to flow into the San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem at critical times.
And the Delta Tunnel that Governor Gavin Newsom is promoting will only make things worse for imperiled Delta fish species, as if they weren't bad enough already.
Background: the weaponization of Delta Smelt in the California water wars
The state and federal water contractors and their political promoters, including Congressman Devin Nunes and lame duck President Donald Trump, have blamed the Delta smelt for restrictions on Delta pumping for San Joaquin Valley irrigators.
In Trump's first interview after announcing he tested positive for the coronavirus, he ranted about the smelt, claiming that California "sends millions of gallons of water out to sea, to the Pacific" because "they want to take care of certain tiny little fish that aren't doing very well without water, they have farms here and they don't get water.”
“It is so ridiculous they're taking the water and shoving it out to sea,” Trump said.
In May at the annual GOP Congressional Luncheon, in a turgid rant, Trump also blamed the smelt for his wealthy agribusiness supporters not receiving federal project water:
“And then you look at this massive turn, they had a turn, it takes a day to turn it, like a big faucet. And they turn it. And It veers all of the water out into the Pacific. It’s crazy. So we’re all set except you need Gavin’s signature all of the way up. If you get Gavin’s signature – you can have water from Los Angeles all of the way up. And It’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. I thought, I thought, it was the drought. No, he said, we have tremendous amounts of water but we send it out to the Pacific Ocean and it was over the smelt. So if you can get his signature.”
However, findings published in the journal San Francisco Estuary & Watershed Science in March 2019 reveal that water exports from the South Delta were actually limited by infrastructure and water quality concerns far more often than protections for endangered species.
During the 2010-2018 study period, 89% of Central Valley water flowing into San Francisco Bay was the result of salinity control and infrastructure constraints on water exports compared to less than 1.5% caused by endangered species act safeguards specific to protection of Delta smelt from entrainment in the export pumps, according to the study.
"Safeguards for the San Francisco Bay estuary's six endangered fish species led to relatively small increases in freshwater flow to the Bay," said Greg Reis, staff scientist for The Bay Institute and lead author of the research article. "In two of the nine years, we studied, protections for Delta Smelt did not limit water exports for even a single day -- the effect on water supplies of protecting this unique species, which functions as an indicator of overall ecosystem health, is far less than what's commonly reported."
Dr. Jonathan Rosenfield, Senior Scientist at San Francisco Baykeeper and co-author of this study, stated, “Despite water quality regulations that are intended to protect fisheries and wildlife populations in general, and endangered species act protections for the most imperiled fishes, the proportion of Central Valley river flows that make it all the way to San Francisco Bay has been declining for decades. Currently, Californians divert, on average, about 1/2 of the ecologically critical winter-spring runoff that would otherwise flow into San Francisco Bay, and the fish, wildlife, and water quality that rely on this water are suffering as a result."