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NOAA-NMFS BiOp states valley water projects damage delta fisheries

by Dan Bacher, editor of the Fish Sniffer
January 20, 2009 -- The National Marine Fisheries Service, an agency of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has just released its draft biological opinion regarding the impacts of the federal Central Valley Project and State Water Project on fish populations.

The document states in part, "Based on the best available scientific and commercial information, the draft opinion concludes that the long term OCAP is likely to jeopardize the existence of Federally listed endangered Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, threatened Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon, threatened Central Valley steelhead and threatened Southern Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of North American green sturgeon," stated the transmittal letter. The OCAP "is likely to destroy or adversely modify the designated critical habitats of Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley spring-run ...(Continued) salmon, and Central Valley steelhead, and is likely to destroy or adversely modify the proposed critical habitat of Southern DPS of North American green sturgeon."

Zeke Grader, executive director of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA), praised the draft biological opinion on Sacramento salmon and steelhead and delta water exports:

"The National Marine Fisheries Service has now made clear that siphoning a large part of the Sacramento delta and sending that water south is killing our salmon," said Grader. "The water withdrawals have to be reduced to the   more manageable levels we had before the year 2000 when they jumped by about 16 percent. Last year we had zero ocean fishing for salmon off the California coast and it appears we're headed for the same this year because the water withdrawals are lethal to our salmon. This is hurting real families in coastal communities."

"We should take a serious look at stopping the export of taxpayer subsidized delta water to farms in the San Joaquin Valley that aren't growing food," he emphasized. "In this critical time of drought there's no common sense reason to continue giving taxpayer-subsided water to farmers who use it to grow cotton, hay, or corn for ethanol, none of which humans eat."

The biological opinion has been released at a time when Central Valley salmon and steelhead populations are in their greatest crisis ever. The Central Valley fall chinook salmon population, the "driver" of West Coast salmon fisheries, has declined to its lowest ever population level, down from over 780,000 fish in 2002 to less than 60,000 fish this fall. The population has collapsed because of massive water exports out of the California Delta, increasing water pollution and the degradation of upstream habitat, combined with poor ocean conditions.

You can download the report - all 452 pages of it - by clicking here, http://swr.nmfs.noaa.gov/sac/myweb8/BiOpFiles/2009/Draft_OCAP_Opinion.pdf