California’s S.F. Bay-Delta still a “Death Trap” for fish, Even In a Good Water Year

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California and Pacific NW Representative
Endangered Species Coalition
Credit: Steve Culberson, USFWS

As we all know, 2011 has been an exceptional water year for our state.  There is no doubt this will be good for the state’s fisheries everywhere.  One would think that given all this water that the fisheries in the Delta are receiving they would be beyond any harm (various Smelt species, Striped Bass, Winter, Spring and Fall-run Chinook, Steelhead and Green Sturgeon).  After all, the salmon/steelhead/green sturgeon Biological Opinion under the ESA is in full effect now, making sure that fish are not unduly harmed – Right?   Well, not so fast.  Though flows in the Delta are high, and Old and Middle river Channels of the San Joaquin river in the Delta are not in the highly negative flows category, fish are still dying at alarming rates!
Recent data from the Bureau of Reclamation and Dept. of Fish and Game shows that entrainment (the term used in place of killed) at the state and federal water pumps is dramatic.  Delta pumps killed over 1.9 million splittail Smelt (previously ESA listed until Julie McDonald got involved) in just the three-day period from May 16 through 18. Over the five-day period including May 19 and 20, a horrifying 2,882,046 splittail were killed! Yes, that’s right, nearly 3 million!  Over 15,000 ESA listed Chinook have been killed so far this year, with 4,368 Winter-run and 11,009 Spring-run.  See ( and – Fish Report.  Remember, Fall-run Chinook are not counted as they are not ESA listed, and they are leaving the system as we write.
Credit: NOAA
When we see information like this it becomes very obvious how destructive the Delta water management system really is for fish.  It is no wonder that Delta Fisheries are in trouble, and the ecosystem has crashed.  All the Chinook salmon killed to date came from the Sacramento River system, hundreds of miles north of the pumping stations.  Yet, because of the way the system is operated these out migrating smolts are drawn (sucked) into the central and south Delta where they are drawn to the pumps, even in a good water year.  These fish are genetically programmed to move with the flow downstream, through San Francisco Bay, under the Golden Gate and into the ocean.  The pumps alter normal genetic processes.  Think of the hundreds of millions of dollars ($$$) of taxpayer money spent on hatcheries and mitigation to save these ESA listed fish, and then they are simply “sucked” into a death trap.
Until this system is changed to something more protective and supportive we will continue to suffer these numbers.  This is why the Endangered Species Coalition (ESC) is working so hard to make a difference with the state and federal agencies tasked with balancing the Delta and recovering its listed fish species.  The Endangered Species Coalition, and our member partners are at the point of the spear on this issue, and we are working with them to mandate changes that make sense, protect the fishery, and recover the Delta.  It is up to all of us to be part of this “fight”.  The water contractors will not let up in their efforts for MORE water, and it is up to ESC and our partners to make sure they DON’T get more.  What is appropriate is for the urban and agricultural water users to get less from the Bay-Delta, and find other ways to meet additional needs.  That is what the fight in Sacramento is all about.  You can count on ESC to represent endangered species well, and to hold the decision makers to the California legislative mandates of less reliance on the Delta and recovery of the Delta ecosystem

California Representative, Endangered Species Coalition

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