The magnificent San Francisco Bay and Sacramento River Delta is the largest estuary on the West Coast of North America and the source of the California salmon fishery which provides thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of income to the economy. Tragically, one of the nation’s most important ecosystems is collapsing and the salmon populations are endangered. Yesterday, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council announced California’s once abundant salmon runs came in at a new all time record low in 2009.

Unfortunately, greedy water users are putting heavy pressure on Senator Feinstein to introduce legislation to waive Endangered Species Act protections to these endangered fisheries which could have disastrous consequences for California’s iconic salmon fishery. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Senator Feinstein is attempting to attach language to the Senate jobs bill that would “divert Northern California water to Central Valley farmers.”

Ironically, this would attach an amendment to the jobs bill that could potentially destroy thousands of family wage jobs. An amendment to waive the requirements under the federal Endangered Species Act could lead to the permanent closure of the salmon fishery, with long-term job losses and economic damage. Such a suspension would likewise harm the Delta farmers who rely on clean Delta water to irrigate their crops.

Over the past two years, the California salmon fishery has been shut down due to the collapse of salmon populations. This has resulted in thousands of lost jobs in California and Oregon, and billions of dollars in lost income, each year. Southwick Associates have estimated that the season closures have cost an estimated 23,000 jobs and $2.8 billion in the California economy alone. Strong protections for the Delta ecosystem could help recover the salmon fishery, which would return approximately $1.4 billion to the California economy, and 94,000 new jobs to California.

According to the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, the fishery collapse is having devastating consequence to the fishing community. “If we wipe our salmon out, we’ll also be wiping out generations of fishing families from the central California coast to northern Oregon that have all relied on king salmon from the Sacramento River to make a living,” said Zeke Grader, executive director of the PCFFA. 

Instead of overturning our nation’s environmental laws, we should be working together on long-term solutions that restore and maintain the health of the environment on which the health of our economy and the quality of our lives depend.  Investments in water recycling, groundwater recharge and cleanup, urban and agricultural water efficiency, and stormwater capture have the potential to yield more water each year than has ever been exported out of the Delta, with significant environmental benefits.

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