The California Legislature was the first in the country to
protect rare plants and animals through passage of the California
Endangered Species Act (CESA) in 1970, Congress followed suit in
1973 by passing the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The federal ESA aims to, “protect and recover imperiled species
and the ecosystems upon which they depend.”
The state ESA states that, “all native species of fishes,
amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, invertebrates, and plants,
and their habitats, threatened with extinction and those
experiencing a significant decline which, if not halted, would
lead to a threatened or endangered designation, will be protected
Imperiled species are defined as follows: “Endangered” if it is
in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion
of its range and “threatened” if it is likely to become an
endangered species within the foreseeable future.”
A Marin environmental group is suing to block a proposed water
pipeline on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, citing the
potential harm to endangered fish. The plaintiffs also allege
the Marin Municipal Water District project could open the door
to tens of thousands of new homes being developed in the
county. The Fairfax-based North Coast Rivers Alliance filed the
lawsuit on Thursday in Marin County Superior Court.
“You can’t design a worse evolutionary strategy for the
Anthropocene” There are many variants on this quote, and we’ve
heard them often in reference to the status of native fishes in
California and other freshwater organisms worldwide. Indeed,
the statement rings true for Pacific salmon, but especially
spring-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) in
California. And although the current situation certainly looks
bleak overall for endangered salmon (Moyle et al. 2017), there
are signs in a few corners that the arrow may finally be
The Klamath Basin is coming off a tough year. Farmers,
ranchers, fish, birds — nobody had enough water. And the crisis
— fueled by climate change, politics and water policy — doesn’t
appear likely to resolve anytime soon. The two species of
endangered suckers in Upper Klamath Lake are in the middle of
the turmoil. … Despite being protected as an endangered
species for more than 30 years, the numbers
of shortnose and Lost River suckers have
continued to decline. Only about 8,000 thousand shortnose
suckers are left in the world.
The Lyons family has donated $50,000 to the restoration of Dos
Rios Ranch, a floodplain zone close to its farmland southwest
of Modesto. The gift reflects the family’s efforts to farm in a
way that enhances wildlife habitat. This has included the
recovery of the once-endangered Aleutian cackling goose, along
with fish and other creatures in the floodplain project. Dos
Rios stretches across about 2,400 acres where the Tuolumne and
San Joaquin rivers join.
In California’s Central Valley, studies have found that
increased streamflow can improve the survival of imperiled
juvenile salmon populations during their oceanward migration.
However, these studies have not explored the potential
nonlinearities between flow and survival, giving resource
managers the difficult task of designing flows intended to help
salmon without clear guidance on flow targets.
Illegal marijuana grows continue to show up in our national
forests but removing the sites is only half the battle,
according to Ryan Henson, Senior Policy Director with the
California Wilderness Coalition. Henson says, “Cartels are
able to get away with establishing these grows. By now, there
are literally thousands of them out there, even when they are
found out, mostly the marijuana is removed and not the
waste.” Waste like illegal pesticides. … Those
chemicals can potentially leak into the Kern river and
watersheds impacting native fish species.
48 organizations have signed on to a letter demanding Governor
Newsom address California’s water crisis with specific actions
targeted at the corporate abuse of public water resources.
While drought ravages the state and freshwater supplies
dwindle, more than 1 million Californians lack access to clean
drinking water. Wells in dry and under-resourced areas like the
Central Valley are predicted to go dry at astonishing rates.
Yet unsustainable amounts of California’s water are being
allocated to multibillion dollar industries like fossil fuel
production, industrial dairy operation and almond crop
Advocates for the environment hailed the state’s recent
decision to implement updated water-flow standards in the San
Joaquin River, but what the move will mean for Sacramento River
flows remains to be seen. The action taken by the California
Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) and the California
Environmental Protection Agency (CEPA) ended the voluntary
agreement process for the San Joaquin River watershed.
Autumnal rain has sent a surge of Chinook salmon swimming up
Bay Area creeks, a sharp reversal in fortune for an iconic
species that has struggled after years of drought. A living
link between our mountains and coast, the fish responded to
late October’s fierce atmospheric river by rushing up the
region’s once-parched rivers, say biologists, frequenting spots
where they’ve never been seen. … In recent years, populations
of Chinook, also known as king salmon, have collapsed with
astonishing speed — and even this current run is unlikely to
end well if more rain doesn’t come.
A coordinated effort between the Biden and Newsom
administrations to drop two-year-old environmental rules
governing water deliveries to the Central Valley and Southern
California reached a new benchmark two days before
Thanksgiving. In a flurry of pre-holiday filings, Federal
officials, in consultation with Newsom administration
officials, requested that a Fresno-based Federal judge adopt a
hastily-arranged plan to govern water pumping in the
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
To save coho salmon from extinction and promote healthy water
quality for residents, SPAWN provides indisputable scientific
data and calls on decision makers to take speedy and decisive
action to protect Marin’s coho salmon and expand their chances
for recovery to sustainable population levels. Currently, the
Marin County Board of Supervisors can ensure protections for
coho salmon by passing a science-based, common-sense Streamside
Conservation Area Ordinance.
The simple way to think about this crisis: There’s no longer
enough water to go around to meet the needs of farmers and
Native American populations as well as fish and birds. For more
than a century, the federal government has overseen an
intricate and imperfect system of water distribution intended
to sustain an ecosystem and an economy. The whole precarious
balance was based on the assumption that enough snow would
Biologists have designed a variety
of unique experiments in the past decade to demonstrate the
benefits that floodplains provide for small fish. Tracking
studies have used acoustic tags to show that chinook salmon
smolts with access to inundated fields are more likely than their
river-bound cohorts to reach the Pacific Ocean. This is because
the richness of floodplains offers a vital buffet of nourishment
on which young salmon can capitalize, supercharging their growth
and leading to bigger, stronger smolts.
I have reported every year for over a decade on the results of
the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fall Midwater
Trawl Survey. For the past three years, no Delta smelt,
once the most abundant fish in the entire Sacramento-San
Joaquin River Delta, have been found in this survey. None have
been found in the first two months of the four-month survey
this year either.
State officials have a “grim” outlook for California’s
winter-run Chinook salmon along the Sacramento River. The
deepening drought and rising temperatures are exhausting agency
resources for managing the species to prevent extinction, and
with long-term forecasts predicting little precipitation for
Northern California in the months ahead, the state is making
plans for worst-case scenarios and an emergency overhaul of
water management in California.
Three years ago, a 26,600-acre ranch in remote Northern
California, with a 10-bedroom lodge, 16 miles of riverfront and
two herds of Roosevelt elk was drawing attention in the
nation’s luxury real estate market. … As it turns out, the
$25 million plot on the Eel River, which spans both Mendocino
and Trinity counties, will go to a conservation group. The
Wildlands Conservancy closed escrow on the tract Tuesday and
plans to turn this mostly untamed stretch of mountains and
valleys into a preserve open to the public.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has announced $2.7 million in
funding for projects aimed at helping coho salmon in the
Klamath River basin. The species is listed as threatened under
the Endangered Species Act and has seen its numbers dwindle
amid rising river temperatures and reduced water flows. The
grant announced Monday will be administered by the National
Fish and Wildlife Foundation, with help from federal and state
agencies, and will prioritize projects that improve salmon
habitat and fish passage in the lower part of the river and its
tributaries, according to a bureau news release.
As I write this on an October weekend, rain is falling steadily
in Davis and has been for most of the day. This is the first
real rain we have had in over seven months. But it is not the
end of the drought. Multiple storms are needed. The landscape
is a dry sponge, reservoirs are empty, water rationing is in
place or expected to be, and aquatic species are in decline.
State officials confirmed dire predictions of catastrophic fish
kills due to sizzling water temperatures in California’s
largest river, announcing Thursday that just 2% of winter-run
Chinook juvenile salmon likely survived the summer. The
alarming percentage of juvenile salmon killed on the Sacramento
River surpasses the scope of die-offs recorded in the state’s
recent drought years and has officials sounding the alarm about
the potential permanent collapse of the endangered species.
The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service today for failing to protect two populations
of imperiled speckled dace under the Endangered Species Act.
The Service failed to make required decisions on protection for
the Santa Ana speckled dace, in Southern California, and the
Long Valley speckled dace in Mono County, which is nearing
extinction in the wild.
For nearly three years, some of California’s biggest water
users, including San Francisco, have been quietly meeting with
the state to figure out how much water they should be taking
from the San Joaquin River and its tributaries. The talks were
launched to prevent some of California’s mightiest rivers from
drying up, and keep fish populations from disappearing, while
still allowing cities and farms to draw the supplies they need.
The vision was nothing short of a grand compromise on divvying
up California’s water. But late last week, the state
conceded the negotiations had failed.
At a recent meeting, the Bureau of Reclamation explained why
there would be no High Flow Experiment (HFE) on the Colorado
River in Grand Canyon this fall. An HFE would move sand from
the bottom of the river in Marble Canyon to the tops of beaches
along the length of Grand Canyon. … We must
recognize the conflict we’ve created. It is time to admit that
Glen Canyon Dam can’t pay for itself, and we are subsidizing it
by sacrificing our nationally treasured Grand Canyon … -Written by Alicyn Gitlin, with the Restore & Protect
the Greater Grand Canyon Campaign and the Sierra Club Grand
In drought years and when marine heat waves warm the Pacific
Ocean, late-migrating juvenile spring-run Chinook salmon of
California’s Central Valley are the ultimate survivors. They
are among the few salmon that survive in those difficult years
and return to spawning rivers to keep their populations alive,
according to a study published October 28 in Nature Climate
The Biden administration today moved to rescind Trump
administration policies that crimped the designation of
critical habitat to protect threatened or endangered species.
In a pair of long-anticipated moves, the Fish and Wildlife
Service and NOAA Fisheries proposed getting rid of a Trump-era
definition of critical habitat under the Endangered Species
Act. FWS is also proposing to end a policy that made it easier
to exclude territory. Taken together, the two proposed rule
changes could significantly alter the much-litigated ESA
landscape and, supporters say, enhance conservation and
recovery of vulnerable animals or plants.
This tour guided participants on a virtual journey deep into California’s most crucial water and ecological resource – the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The 720,000-acre network of islands and canals support the state’s two major water systems – the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project. The Delta and the connecting San Francisco Bay form the largest freshwater tidal estuary of its kind on the West coast.
Voluntary agreements in California
have been touted as an innovative and flexible way to improve
environmental conditions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
and the rivers that feed it. The goal is to provide river flows
and habitat for fish while still allowing enough water to be
diverted for farms and cities in a way that satisfies state
One of California Gov. Gavin
Newsom’s first actions after taking office was to appoint Wade
Crowfoot as Natural Resources Agency secretary. Then, within
weeks, the governor laid out an ambitious water agenda that
Crowfoot, 45, is now charged with executing.
That agenda includes the governor’s desire for a “fresh approach”
on water, scaling back the conveyance plan in the Sacramento-San
Joaquin Delta and calling for more water recycling, expanded
floodplains in the Central Valley and more groundwater recharge.
Bruce Babbitt, the former Arizona
governor and secretary of the Interior, has been a thoughtful,
provocative and sometimes forceful voice in some of the most
high-profile water conflicts over the last 40 years, including
groundwater management in Arizona and the reduction of
California’s take of the Colorado River. In 2016, former
California Gov. Jerry Brown named Babbitt as a special adviser to
work on matters relating to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and
the Delta tunnels plan.
The growing leadership of women in water. The Colorado River’s persistent drought and efforts to sign off on a plan to avert worse shortfalls of water from the river. And in California’s Central Valley, promising solutions to vexing water resource challenges.
These were among the topics that Western Water news explored in 2018.
We’re already planning a full slate of stories for 2019. You can sign up here to be alerted when new stories are published. In the meantime, take a look at what we dove into in 2018:
Water means life for all the Grand Canyon’s inhabitants, including the many varieties of insects that are a foundation of the ecosystem’s food web. But hydropower operations upstream on the Colorado River at Glen Canyon Dam, in Northern Arizona near the Utah border, disrupt the natural pace of insect reproduction as the river rises and falls, sometimes dramatically. Eggs deposited at the river’s edge are often left high and dry and their loss directly affects available food for endangered fish such as the humpback chub.
An hour’s drive north of Sacramento sits a picture-perfect valley hugging the eastern foothills of Northern California’s Coast Range, with golden hills framing grasslands mostly used for cattle grazing.
Back in the late 1800s, pioneer John Sites built his ranch there and a small township, now gone, bore his name. Today, the community of a handful of families and ranchers still maintains a proud heritage.
Farmers in the Central Valley are broiling about California’s plan to increase flows in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems to help struggling salmon runs avoid extinction. But in one corner of the fertile breadbasket, River Garden Farms is taking part in some extraordinary efforts to provide the embattled fish with refuge from predators and enough food to eat.
And while there is no direct benefit to one farm’s voluntary actions, the belief is what’s good for the fish is good for the farmers.
Does California need to revamp the way in which water is dedicated to the environment to better protect fish and the ecosystem at large? In the hypersensitive world of California water, where differences over who gets what can result in epic legislative and legal battles, the idea sparks a combination of fear, uncertainty and promise.
Saying that the way California manages water for the environment “isn’t working for anyone,” the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) shook things up late last year by proposing a redesigned regulatory system featuring what they described as water ecosystem plans and water budgets with allocations set aside for the environment.
As vital as the Colorado River is to the United States and
Mexico, so is the ongoing process by which the two countries
develop unique agreements to better manage the river and balance
future competing needs.
The prospect is challenging. The river is over allocated as urban
areas and farmers seek to stretch every drop of their respective
supplies. Since a historic treaty between the two countries was
signed in 1944, the United States and Mexico have periodically
added a series of arrangements to the treaty called minutes that
aim to strengthen the binational ties while addressing important
water supply, water quality and environmental concerns.
Less than 50 miles northeast of Chico, California, begins the
93-mile Butte Creek – a tributary of the Sacramento River. It is named
after Butte County, which was in turn named for the nearby
volcanic plateaus, or “buttes,” and travels through a massive
canyon on its way southwest to the Sacramento Valley.
As a watershed, it drains about 800 square miles, both for
agricultural and residential use. The upper watershed is
dominated by forests, while the lower watershed is primarily
This 28-page report describes the watersheds of the Sierra Nevada
region and details their importance to California’s overall water
picture. It describes the region’s issues and challenges,
including healthy forests, catastrophic fire, recreational
impacts, climate change, development and land use.
The report also discusses the importance of protecting and
restoring watersheds in order to retain water quality and enhance
quantity. Examples and case studies are included.
20-minute version of the 2012 documentary The Klamath Basin: A
Restoration for the Ages. This DVD is ideal for showing at
community forums and speaking engagements to help the public
understand the complex issues related to complex water management
disputes in the Klamath River Basin. Narrated by actress Frances
For over a century, the Klamath River Basin along the Oregon and
California border has faced complex water management disputes. As
relayed in this 2012, 60-minute public television documentary
narrated by actress Frances Fisher, the water interests range
from the Tribes near the river, to energy producer PacifiCorp,
farmers, municipalities, commercial fishermen, environmentalists
– all bearing legitimate arguments for how to manage the water.
After years of fighting, a groundbreaking compromise may soon
settle the battles with two epic agreements that hold the promise
of peace and fish for the watershed. View an excerpt from the
This 25-minute documentary-style DVD, developed in partnership
with the California Department of Water Resources, provides an
excellent overview of climate change and how it is already
affecting California. The DVD also explains what scientists
anticipate in the future related to sea level rise and
precipitation/runoff changes and explores the efforts that are
underway to plan and adapt to climate.
This beautiful 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, features
a map of the San Joaquin River. The map text focuses on the San
Joaquin River Restoration Program, which aims to restore flows
and populations of Chinook salmon to the river below Friant Dam
to its confluence with the Merced River. The text discusses the
history of the program, its goals and ongoing challenges with
This beautiful 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, displays
the rivers, lakes and reservoirs, irrigated farmland, urban areas
and Indian reservations within the Klamath River Watershed. The
map text explains the many issues facing this vast,
15,000-square-mile watershed, including fish restoration;
agricultural water use; and wetlands. Also included are
descriptions of the separate, but linked, Klamath Basin
Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Agreement,
and the next steps associated with those agreements. Development
of the map was funded by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
This beautiful 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, displays
the rivers, lakes and reservoirs, irrigated farmland, urban areas
and Indian reservations within the Truckee River Basin, including
the Newlands Project, Pyramid Lake and Lake Tahoe. Map text
explains the issues surrounding the use of the Truckee-Carson
rivers, Lake Tahoe water quality improvement efforts, fishery
restoration and the effort to reach compromise solutions to many
of these issues.
This 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, explains how
non-native invasive animals can alter the natural ecosystem,
leading to the demise of native animals. “Unwelcome Visitors”
features photos and information on four such species – including
the zerbra mussel – and explains the environmental and economic
threats posed by these species.
The 28-page Layperson’s Guide to
Water Rights Law, recognized as the most thorough explanation of
California water rights law available to non-lawyers, traces the
authority for water flowing in a stream or reservoir, from a
faucet or into an irrigation ditch through the complex web of
California water rights.
The Colorado River provides water to 40 million people and 4
million acres of farmland in a region encompassing some 246,000
square miles in the southwestern United States. The 32-page
Layperson’s Guide to the Colorado River covers the history of the
river’s development; negotiations over division of its water; the
items that comprise the Law of the River; and a chronology of
significant Colorado River events.
The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to the Delta explores the competing
uses and demands on California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Included in the guide are sections on the history of the Delta,
its role in the state’s water system, and its many complex issues
with sections on water quality, levees, salinity and agricultural
drainage, fish and wildlife, and water distribution.
The federal government passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973,
following earlier legislation. The first, the Endangered
Species Preservation Act of 1966, authorized land acquisition to
conserve select species. The Endangered Species Conservation Act
of 1969 then expanded on the 1966 act, and authorized “the
compilation of a list of animals “threatened with worldwide
extinction” and prohibits their importation without a permit.”
This issue of Western Water looks at the BDCP and the
Coalition to Support Delta Projects, issues that are aimed at
improving the health and safety of the Delta while solidifying
California’s long-term water supply reliability.
This printed issue of Western Water features a
roundtable discussion with Anthony Saracino, a water resources
consultant; Martha Davis, executive manager of policy development
with the Inland Empire Utilities Agency and senior policy advisor
to the Delta Stewardship Council; Stuart Leavenworth, editorial
page editor of The Sacramento Bee and Ellen Hanak, co-director of
research and senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of
This printed issue of Western Water examines the issues
associated with the State Water Board’s proposed revision of the
water quality Bay-Delta Plan, most notably the question of
whether additional flows are needed for the system, and how they
might be provided.
This printed issue of Western Water examines science –
the answers it can provide to help guide management decisions in
the Delta and the inherent uncertainty it holds that can make
moving forward such a tenuous task.
This printed copy of Western Water examines the native salmon and
trout dilemma – the extent of the crisis, its potential impact on
water deliveries and the lengths to which combined efforts can
help restore threatened and endangered species.
This printed copy of Western Water examines the Delta through the
many ongoing activities focusing on it, most notably the Delta
Vision process. Many hours of testimony, research, legal
proceedings, public hearings and discussion have occurred and
will continue as the state seeks the ultimate solution to the
problems tied to the Delta.
In California and the West, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a
critical issue. Development and agricultural interests say the
law should not be used to unjustly block new projects, while
conservationists view the law as a major bulwark against the
destruction of vital habitat. In the water world, municipal and
agricultural interests say there is room to streamline the ESA’s
application to prevent undue interruption of water delivery.
Two events that transformed the West, population growth and the
dominance of agriculture, are inextricable parts of the battles
fought over its most vital resource, water. Throughout the 19th
century, as settlers sought to tame the rugged landscape,
momentum built behind the notion of a comprehensive, federally
financed waterworks plan that would provide the agrarian society
envisioned by Thomas Jefferson. The Reclamation Act of 1902,
which could arguably be described as a progression of the credo,
Manifest Destiny, transformed the West into an economic
powerhouse while putting an exclamation mark to the tide of