How much water is needed to restore the depleted fisheries of the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta? A lot more than they’re getting now, a point that has been made repeatedly by independent scientists and Delta advocacy groups, including C-WIN.
And according to statements made by fisheries biologists to the State Water Resources Control Board, the fish are in particular need of enhanced flows down the San Joaquin River.
In prepared testimony to the Board, C-WIN senior research associate Tim Stroshane noted that substituting restored wetlands for increased flows – as proposed in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan – will not reverse the crash in the estuary’s fisheries. The river flows themselves are the habitat most required by the fish for recovery, Stroshane stated.
Moreover, Stroshane said, the State Water Board has been aware of these facts for years. Two decades ago, fisheries biologists made the same points to the Board. In response, the agency developed water quality control plans in the late 1980s and a draft water rights decision in the early 1990s. These decisions would have increased through-Delta flows significantly and provided enhanced protection for the Delta’s ecosystems, but two governors shelved them after water contractors balked.
When the state legislature passed Senate Bill 1 in 2010, it created Water Code Section 85086(c) (1). This statute directed the State Water Board to “develop flow criteria for the Delta ecosystem necessary to protect public trust resources using the best scientific information with input from the public.” It was the legislature’s intent that these flow criteria would be the basis for the Delta Plan that will ultimately determine water exports from the estuary.
Unhappily, the intent of the legislature has not translated into sound policy. Without sustainable and enforceable through-Delta flows, the valuable commercial and sport fisheries that rely on the Bay-Delta estuary will continue their spiral toward extinction.