New study reveals how reducing river flows harms San Francisco Bay and coastal waters

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One of the most difficult ideas to get state and federal officials to acknowledge is that fish and marine life in our bay and ocean waters need fresh water flows to thrive — and that diverting massive of quantities of water to corporate agribusiness has caused major ecosystem collapses on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River and San Francisco Bay.

A major new study by the Bay Institute, “San Francisco Bay: The Freshwater – Starved Estuary,” documents how “the ecological health of San Francisco Bay and the nearby ocean is at high risk because large-scale water diversion in the Bay’s watershed severely limits the amount of fresh water that reaches the Bay and alters the timing of that flow.”

“Inflow to the Bay from its Central Valley watershed now averages less than half of what it would be without diversions; in some years just one-third of the runoff makes it to the Bay. The result is a nearly permanent drought for the Bay’s fish, wildlife, and their habitats. This radical alteration creates severe consequences for the Bay and marine ecosystems – and Bay Area residents pay the price,” according to The Bay Institute.

“The San Francisco Bay Estuary is created by the mixing of fresh water from the Central Valley’s rivers with salt water from the Pacific Ocean. Dramatically reducing the inflow of fresh water generates cascading effects in the Bay’s watershed, the Bay itself, and coastal ocean waters,” the group stated.

The study shows how unsustainable diversion of the Bay’s freshwater inflow:

• “Dramatically cuts production of fish and shrimp that are the food source for marine mammals, like Orca Whales, and birds;
• Allows pollutants to accumulate to dangerous levels and encourages blooms of toxic algae;
• Reduces sediment supply to Bay Area wetlands and beaches;
• Makes it easier for undesirable non-native species to successfully invade the Bay Estuary.”

The study identifies four important approaches to improving Bay inflows:

• “Update the State’s 21 year old water quality standards for the Bay Estuary to ensure adequate inflow
• Require all those who divert water destined for the Bay, not just a subset, to contribute their fair share of fresh water to support benefits enjoyed by all Californians
• Invest in local water supplies around the state including conservation, and recycling, that can generate millions of acre-feet of water and reduce reliance on water diverted from the Estuary and its watershed
• Coordinate management of flows with wetland and beach restoration to more effectively protect shorelines”

The study was prepared for the San Francisco Estuary Partnership, a coalition of resource agencies, non-profits, citizens, and scientists working to protect, restore, and enhance water quality and fish and wildlife habitat in and around the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary, which also provided the majority of funding for the project.

Unfortunately, Governor Jerry Brown is fast-tracking a project that will only drive the Bay-Delta and ocean ecosystems into even further decline — the California Water Fix. The plan will build two massive 35-mile long tunnels under the Delta that will divert Sacramento River below it can flow through the estuary. The project is designed to facilitate the export of Northern California water to corporate agribusiness interests, Southern California water agencies and oil companies conducting fracking and other extreme oil extraction methods in Kern County.

Brown and other state officials have constantly claimed the Delta Tunnels project will “restore” the Delta ecosystem, but they revealed their real plans on October 7 when the administration applied for a permit to kill winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt and other endangered species with the project.…

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) submitted an “incidental intake” application for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) in alleged “compliance” with the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) in order to build the Delta Tunnels, also known as the California WaterFix. In other words, they are applying for a permit to kill endangered species in the construction and operation of the three new water intakes on the Sacramento River and other facilities planned as part of the multi-billion dollar project.

The construction of the Delta Tunnels would hasten the extinction of Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species. The project would also imperil the salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers, a fishery that for thousands of years has played an integral part in the culture, religion and food supply of the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Valley Tribes. The California WaterFix would also endanger Dungeness crab, fall-run Chinook salmon, halibut, starry flounder, white sturgeon, anchovy, sardine, herring, leopard shark, sevengill shark, striped bass, lingcod, rockfish and other populations on San Francisco Bay and the ocean.

View and download the full print version of the report here:
Full Report – PDF:
Executive Summary: