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DFF's Focus on Conservation with Ron Forbes

"Soon after I embraced the sport of angling I became convinced that I should never be able to enjoy it if I had to rely on the cooperation of the fish."
Sparse Grey Hackle

The Delta Fish Grinders

In early September, Dan Bacher published an article stating that approximately 11 million fish have been killed at both the state and federal pumping stations since the first of the year. These fish comprise 46 species, with the biggest loss of almost 9 million Sacramento Splittail. Also among the fish lost are Chinook salmon, Steelhead, Striped Bass, Catfish, Black bass, Sturgeon and two species of shad. According to the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) these fish were lost in what they refer to as “the salvage process”. One of Webster’s definitions of salvage is, “to save from loss or destruction”. However, that is not what happens when fish are “salvaged” at the federal and state pumping stations. Basically they are killed.

Bacher took much of the information from a report by Larry Walker Associates entitled, “A Review of Delta Fish Population Losses from Pumping Operations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta”. This is must reading for anyone interested in what is happening to our fish during pumping operations in the Delta. Again we are not being given accurate information by the Department of Water Resources, DFG, water contractors, water districts, or agribusiness.

To understand what is being talked about in the pumping operation and fish loss you need to understand their definitions. Such as:
• Salvage: Is the collection of the fish which are upstream from the pumping facilities. The idea is to return these fish to back to the Delta. These fish are collected at both the State Water Project’s (SWP) Skinner Fish Protective Facility and The Central Valley Project’s (CVP) Tracy Fish Collection Facility. The fish are directed away from pumps and into holding tanks. They are then trucked and released back to the Delta.
• Entrainment: Refers to taking fish into the facility and trapping them. The main area of entrainment is the Clifton Court Forebay (CCF). Once the fish enter the forebay, they cannot get out.
• Addition loss: Some fish are not collected and are pumped into the canals that go south and therefore lost to the Delta. Debris and fish are pumped into trucks transported and released into the Delta. The pumping operation, poor handling of fish and debris kills a high percentage of fish as they are released. The next loss occurs when predators locate themselves at points where the salvaged fish are released.
• Total Fish Loss: This is the loss of the fish from the total project including pre-screen loss, fish loss during and after the salvage process, and the loss of fish at the pumps.
You can now understand that the salvage losses are only a part of the total fish loss.
The Entrainment Process
The fish are trapped at the Clifton Court Forebay (CCF). At this point 75% of the fish are lost to predation; 25% go to the salvage facility.

Of the remaining 25 % another 20-30% are lost at the salvage louvers and 70-80% are then salvaged.
Approximately 1-12% are lost due to poor handling and trucking operations.
There is an overall loss of between 10-32% of all salvaged fish due to predation.
Therefore, only 11-18% of all salvaged fish will survive.

When Bacher’s article hit the newspapers and made TV, people were shocked. Why? The loss of fish due to the pumping process has been well-documented since the 1970’s. During this period of study, it is estimated that there has been a 75% Chinook salmon pre-screen loss. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in their 2009 Biological Opinion (BO) explained that due to the increase in the frequency of greater pump rates, there will be an increase in predation of Chinook salmon and Steelhead.

Despite the seriousness of these problems, there is nothing on the horizon to prevent the continued slaughter of our fisheries. The DFG, DWR, SWP, and the CVP have done nothing rectify the problem. In 2000-2001 there was a project-pending to install fish screens at the Clifton Court Forebay and the Tracy facility. It was placed on hold, the reason being to do an “evaluation of the scope of the project” and to determine the time the project would take to complete. That was 10 years ago.

Another problem has arisen at the pumping facilities. Since 1995, there have been pumping restrictions due to the development of pondweed. To keep the water flowing south, the DWR has used a copper-based herbicide called Koomeen. This is done in spring and early summer. This chemical has known problems for both salmonids and the Green Sturgeon since both are highly sensitive to copper at both toxic and non-toxic levels. The DRW now has had to modify the time of application of Koomeen to keep the water flowing.

Since the 1970’s, it has been well-known that the Delta and its fisheries have suffered greatly due the SWP and CVP. Given the continuing disregard of all problems created by the agencies involved (especially DFG and DWR), it is remarkable that any species of fish still exist in the estuary. From this point on, we need to educate ourselves as to what is occurring around us. If we lose, our fisheries will eventually lose the entire Delta ecosystem.
Who would want to live in that environment?

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