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Congressman Jerry McNerney

Representing the 9th District of California

California & Oregon Lawmakers Urge President Obama to Maintain Scientific Protections for Salmon in California’s Bay-Delta Estuary

Apr 13, 2016
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a letter sent today to President Obama, Congressman Jerry McNerney (CA-09) and 9 other members of Congress from California and Oregon are calling on the federal government to continue to maintain protections for the wild salmon populations that depend on California’s fragile Bay-Delta estuary. The letter counters recent requests by some in Congress to waive critical protections for salmon and other protected species.

The letter asks that science, not political preferences, direct the management of water deliveries from the Bay-Delta estuary. Maintaining the scientifically justified protections based on real-time monitoring data will not only ensure compliance with state and federal law, but help protect thousands of fishing jobs across the West Coast, threatened and endangered species, and sources of clean drinking water.

“We are not arguing that these are easy calls, but we appreciate your Administration’s continued defense of the scientifically-based protections for endangered species, which helps protect family farms in the Delta, drinking water for the state of California, and fishing jobs across the West Coast,” the members wrote. “We urge the Administration to reject calls to increase pumping from the Delta beyond allowable limits, and instead to protect endangered fish and wildlife – and the thousands of jobs and communities that depend on a healthy estuary.”

Earlier this week, hundreds of individuals and businesses in the West Coast salmon fishing industry sent a letter of opposition to any drought legislation that threatens critical salmon runs.

The signatories on the letter along with Congressman McNerney are Representatives Peter DeFazio (OR-04), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Mike Thompson (CA-05), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Doris Matsui (CA-06), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Anna Eshoo (CA-18), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), and Barbara Lee (CA-13).

The full text of the letter is below.

April 13, 2016

The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing to support the Administration’s implementation of scientifically sound protections for salmon and other endangered species in California’s Bay-Delta estuary. Recently, some Members of Congress have requested that the Administration ignore the biological science and waive protections for salmon and other endangered fish species. We urge the Administration to instead continue to maintain the scientifically justified protections based on real time monitoring data. This course will not only ensure compliance with the law, but help protect thousands of fishing jobs across the West Coast.

Thankfully, recent storms have resulted in greatly improved snowpack and reservoir storage in the state of California after four years of drought. We understand that California’s extensive network of dams and reservoirs is already capturing more than half of the runoff in the entire Sierra watershed this winter, which has led to increased water supply allocations for contractors of the State Water Project (SWP) and Central Valley Project (CVP). Despite the record drought conditions in 2015, the CVP allocated nearly 3 million acre feet of water last year, primarily to irrigated agriculture in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys. The 2016 State Water Project allocation is already more than twice last year’s allocation (nearly 1.9 million acre feet of water this year). These deliveries are the result of herculean efforts by state and federal fish and water agencies, which have coordinated in an unprecedented fashion.

Unfortunately, California’s native fish and wildlife have not fared well during this drought. Monitoring has revealed record low abundances of threatened and endangered fish species as well as tremendous impacts on Central Valley fall run Chinook salmon, the backbone of the salmon fishery. The salmon fishery along the West Coast is facing significant reductions this year, which will likely continue in the years to come. This will have significant economic impacts on the coastal economy in California, Oregon, and Washington. Other species key to the commercial and recreational fishing industries, including flounder and steelhead, are also being harmed by low freshwater flow rates through the Bay-Delta. 

Despite the grave risks of extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly allowed pumping levels higher than what is recommended by agency biologists over the past several months. Starting in mid-February and continuing well into March, the CVP and SWP have been pumping at the maximum levels allowed under biological opinions protecting endangered salmon and other species. These are not arbitrary pumping levels, nor are they overly cautious: the protections now under attack are the minimum necessary to avoid extinction of these native species, have been upheld by the courts, and undergo annual independent scientific peer review to ensure they are responsive to new scientific information .

Management of water exports from the Bay-Delta estuary is a difficult balancing task, and should rely on biological science as dictated by the law, not political preferences. Earlier this month, based on real time monitoring and other information, state and federal agencies agreed to reduce pumping to protect these severely endangered species, while at the same time CVP and SWP water contractors have received notice that their projected water deliveries will increase this year.

We are not arguing that these are easy calls, but we appreciate your Administration’s continued defense of the scientifically-based protections for endangered species, which helps protect family farms in the Delta, drinking water for the state of California, and fishing jobs across the West Coast. We urge the Administration to reject calls to increase pumping from the Delta beyond allowable limits, and instead to protect endangered fish and wildlife – and the thousands of jobs and communities that depend on a healthy estuary.

Sincerely,

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Rep. Jerry McNerney proudly serves the constituents of California’s 9th Congressional District that includes portions of San Joaquin, Contra Costa, and Sacramento Counties. For more information on Rep. McNerney’s work, follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @RepMcNerney.