Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dampening the Rhetoric on California’s water shortage

Here in California, we are currently finishing our third year of drought, putting pressure on all water users and putting endangered fisheries at further threat of extinction. In addition, increasingly polarizing rhetoric from some special interests and politicians is threatening to weaken the Endangered Species Act. A few politicians and industrial agricultural businesses are looking to exploit the area's economic hardships to attack endangered species and their protections, while ignoring the true sources of the area's water shortages.

In the recent few weeks we are hearing more and more polarizing rhetoric from California’s San Joaquin valley and in Congress about water shortages. Protect the Valley, a water user group, recently put out an alert asking people to call their members of Congress to support a waiver to the Endangered Species Act. The flyer stated “Thanks to government’s misuse of the Federal Endangered Species Act and two subsequent biological opinions, the vast majority of water that normally flows to California’s west-side central valley farmers has been shut off during the growing season in order to protect a 2” baitfish called the Delta Smelt, and a handful of other marine species.” Nothing could be further from the truth, and statements like this only serve to further polarize communities, and further political agendas.

California has the largest and most elaborate water system in the U.S. highlighted by two major diversion canals, the California aqueduct and the Central Valley project, which moves water from the north to the south. Over the 75+ year period this system has been used, more water has been extracted from the north and diverted from the largest estuary in the western hemisphere, the Sacramento-San Francisco Bay-Delta.

In recent years, partially due to these water diversions, fisheries in California have declined, many of which are now listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Pacific salmon, once prolific here, along with a small Delta-centric fish, the Delta Smelt are now on the verge of extinction. This past year, the federal agencies moved to protect them, issuing biological opinions held that water operations would lead to extinction, and cut backs of diversions at certain times of the year were mandated to protect the remaining small fish populations.

Some have forgotten that the fisheries of California are a valuable resource to our economy. It is a business to thousands in the recreational and commercial fishing industries. Salmon are an important “crop” for most Americans, rich in nutrients and protein. The Endangered Species Act is not only designed to protect species, but also the ecosystems upon which they depend. Without a healthy Sacramento delta fishery, thousands of Californians would loose their jobs. Weakening the Endangered Species Act is not the answer to the water issues in California.

Today, we hear politicians like Representative Nunes of Visalia calling for over-riding the Endangered Species Act in order to get more water to the west side farms. Fact is the ESA biological opinions did reduce slightly water deliveries, but certainly not the “vast majority.” The Department of Interior report, “Reality Check”, dated September 17, 2009, says 1/3 less water is available due to the drought, and that ¼ of the 2009 delivery shortage is related to biological opinion reductions, and 75% is due to the drought. Hence, it is a total fabrication to say “the vast majority” of water shortage is caused by the ESA.

Another cry being heard in newspapers and on the airways is, “turn on the water.” Fox news, several local newspapers, and federal legislators keep calling for the water to be turned on. Well, contrary to the statements that the water is turned off, it was not. Water had been being delivered, just at a lower rate than wanted, and senior water rights holders in the eastern San Joaquin valley were getting 100% of their water. Junior water rights holders were not. That is how the system works! Additionally, on June 30th, full diversions of water began, and the west side actually started getting some water, but you would not have known it from all the noise coming from some politicians.

This is a tough year in California because of the drought, and the fact that much of the state is dry normally. In a state with nearly 37 million people, water demands are high, and frankly, water is over obligated. It will take more than yelling in Congress, Tea Party antics, Fox network’s biased reporting, and political maneuvering to get a limited amount of water to a growing state.

Learn more about the ongoing drought, the collapsing ecosystem, its impact on all Californians and ESC's work to help restore the Delta here.

By Mark Rockwell, ESC California Representative

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Your Choice for America's Hottest Species

Today is Blog Action Day to help combat global warming. To celebrate, we are announcing:

America's Hottest Species: The Polar Bear!

Our nation's wildlife, birds, fish and plants are feeling the heat from a warming world. We need to spread the word about the importance of protecting wildlife and wild places from the impacts of climate change.

The Endangered Species Coalition is working to safeguard species in a warming world. As part of our campaign, we are preparing a report on America's endangered species threatened by climate change.

We asked you to help us pick America's Hottest Species and hundreds of people voted for their favorite animal, bird, fish or plant. The polar bear won with 29% of the votes! The polar bear will serve as our ambassador species for our report about the Top 10 species threatened by global warming and help raise awareness for our work to safeguard species in a warming world.

The strong and magnificent polar bear live in one of the harshest environments - the arctic wilderness. Unfortunately, sea ice has been melting under their feet making it harder for them to find food and protect their young. Because of climate change, scientists predict the species could be extinct in the US by the end of the century.

Many endangered species are feeling the heat from climate change. We would like to recognize a few more who were runners up in the America's Hottest Species Contest.

Second place: Gray Wolf
The gray wolf got second place with 16% of your votes. Gray Wolves may face challenges in parts of their range due to climate change for its affect on their food sources, the Moose and Caribou. Warmer temperatures decrease food sources for the caribou and make the moose more vulnerable to disease. With a decrease in potential prey, wolves will be increasingly vulnerable.

Third place: Canada Lynx
The lynx was a close third with 15% of your votes. The Canada lynx is a wild and elusive cat that lives in the northern forests from the Northeast to the Rocky Mountains. Its thick fur and large paws helps it hunt showshoe hares in the far northern wilderness. As climate change continues, the Canada Lynx will no longer be an animal perfectly suited for its habitat and its prey, and its numbers are in jeopardy of declining drastically.

The Endangered Species Coalition is working to safeguard species in a warming world by establishing programs and funding to help wildlife and wild places adapt to the impact of climate change. Congress is working on a climate and energy bill that includes these natural resource adaptation programs.

Take Action: ask the Senate to pass a strong climate change bill that protects our nation’s wildlife and wild places.

For more information about endangered species and climate change, visit

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pacific walrus may be listed under Endangered Species Act

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that they are considering granting Endangered Species Act protections to the Pacific Walrus. The Pacific walrus, which inhabits the Arctic seas between Alaska and Siberia, is at increasing threat of extinction due in part to global warming.

Like the polar bear, the Pacific walrus depends on sea ice for it's survival. The coastal ice acts as a floating nursery for nursing calves and as a staging ground from which adult walruses forage for clams. As the Earth's atmosphere warms causing the sea ice to melt, the walrus is forced inland seeking new habitat. Arctic summer sea ice is predicted to disappear completely by 2030 or before, and 40 percent of winter sea ice in the Bering Sea may be lost by mid-century if current greenhouse gas emissions continue

Inland population shifts such as this have led to overcrowding and deadly stampedes. The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that Arctic sea ice during the 2007 melt season was at it's lowest recorded level. This led to herds as big as 40,000 and ultimately thousands of deaths due to trampling. More recently, 131 walruses were killed by trampling off the Northwest coast of Alaska.

The Pacific walrus is at further risk of habitat loss due to oil exploration. In 2008, the Bush administration leased nearly 3 million acres of the Chukchi Sea off Alaska to oil companies. The species had seen a half century recovery following a marked decline in the 19th century due to commercial hunting of the walrus for it's oil, hides, and ivory. By the mid-20th century, commercial hunting was restricted and walrus populations began to recover.

While the Pacific walrus population is currently unknown, it is estimated to be in the relatively stable 200,000 range. It is important that protections be enacted to safeguard it's habitat and limit the degree to which the Earth's temperature continues to rise before it's too late. Please take action now and ask your Senator to pass a strong climate bill. For more information about climate change and endangered species, please visit the Endangered Species Coalition website.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Jon Stewart and I

Jon Stewart and I both had two things on our mind this week: California's Bay-Delta and global warming. The clip from the Daily Show is below. Presumably, he thought about some other stuff too, but I haven't really.

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in the company of some West Coasters who were in Washington DC to highlight how severe an impact the ecological collapse of the Delta is having on people. While industrial irrigators and other opponents have been trying to portray the issue as being hungry farm works suffering because of protections for the Delta Smelt, the issue is much more complex and directly impacts people up and down the West Coast.

The folks I spent the week with include Laura, who operates a restaurant and fish market on the coast in central Oregon. Her business also used to feature a fish wholesale market, with annual revenues close to $1 million. But, 75% of that wholesale business was locally caught salmon. The Bay-Delta was the second largest salmon source on the West Coast outside of Alaska. Salmon from the Delta made up 60% or more of the salmon caught off the Oregon coast. But no more. This is the second year of salmon fishing closures due to a lack of salmon. She can barely get enough fish for her restaurant and retail market (which, by the way, together provide 40 jobs in her small coastal town and served over 130,000 people last year).

Two of the others we were with are salmon fisherman from Half Moon Bay, California now in their second year of unemployment. There are not enough fish to catch without jeopardizing the future of the salmon and the salmon industry. They know that you can't kill off the smelt and save the salmon or their jobs. Just like you can't kill off the smelt and protect the farmers that live and work in the Delta.

There are many reasons the Delta is in a state of collapse. Three years of drought has made it worse and has resulted in some water users - those with junior (i.e. non-guaranteed) water rights - not getting as much water as they would in wet years. They'd have you believe if you just let the smelt go extinct and disappear forever, everything would be fine. Well, you can't squeeze water from a fish. We need to all be working together to implement the solutions that will restore the health of the whole Delta and enable water to continue to be used elsewhere. Fortunately, the Interior Department and National Marine Fisheries Service have been standing up to heavy political pressure, defending their sound science and seeking real solutions.

As for global warming, you've likely heard that Senators Kerry and Boxer have released a draft of new legislation aimed at reducing global warming pollution. It contains many of the improvements we were seeking over the House legislation. It still needs work, but it is a positive step forward. More details on that to come.

Jon Steward missed just one thing I wish he would have pointed out. During this clip, you'll see Sean Hannity and Paul Rodriguez chanting to "turn the water on." Just one problem with their request: the pumps have been on full blast for three months now.

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