Home     Conservation Home

June 2012

DFF's Focus on Conservation
 with Ron Forbes

 "It has always been my private conviction that any man who puts his intelligence up against a fish and loses had it coming.
                                                                   ------- John Steinbeck

A Different Delta And A Reality Check

During our monthly Board of Directors (BOD)  meeting in April, the directors had a discussion of  the Delta Fly  Fishers concerns about our fisheries, conservation, and environmental issues. Our club has a long, positive history in these areas. Presently we are looking for projects in which our club can become involved. Several suggestion have been made, but we need more suggestions from the membership that they feel the club can perform and that will have a positive impact on our local fisheries. Hopefully the projects would involve, but not limited to, the Mokelumne and Calaveras Rivers, their drainages and possibly the Delta. Our BODs  meetings are always open to the membership so please feel free to attend with your ideas and suggestions. The meetings are on the third Wednesday of the month at Oak Grove Regional Park. If you have some ideas but can't attend, please call me at 209-368-5767 or e-mail me at bluse03@yahoo.com.
 
During the discussion, it was decided our club can take an active role in supporting organizations that take positive action supporting the Delta and our fisheries.
The BOD voted unanimously to help fund:
.  Restore the Delta
.  The Foothill Conservancy
.  The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance
All three groups will receive checks in the amount of $500 each.

 
Ron presents Barbara with a $500 DFF donation as both a thank you and an incentive for Restore the Delta's efforts. 

Saturday evening, May 19th, I had the pleasure for attending a Restore the Delta fund raising dinner to present Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla (Restore the Delta's CEO) our check. She was very pleased to receive our contribution. Our check and another from a fund raising high school student in Rio Vista were the two largest individual checks Restore the Delta received that evening.

A Different Delta And A Reality Check
 
When you live in an area, you have a tendency find it difficult to imagine what that area was like 50, 100, or 150 years ago. That is true of our area and especially the Delta. The Delta today is not the Delta that gave rise to its native species. In doing some research on another Delta issue I came across an article in the California Water Blog about the changes that have occurred  over the last 150 years by six well known people from UC Davis. The authors are J. Lund and R. Krone, Professors of Environmental Engineering, Peter Moyle, Professor of Fish Biology, J Mount, Professor of Geology, Ellen Hanak, Public Policy Institute of California, William Fleenor, Research Engineer.  

 
The delta of today, farmland, not marshes, dot the landscape. 

The title of their article is, "Stressed Out- Dealing with the Delta's Non-Native Landscape."Today's Delta is not the Delta that existed over 100 years ago. Originally the Delta was about 3/4 million acres of fresh water and tidal marsh. Today it has over 1/2 million of farmland, with 61,000 acres of open water and 75,000 acres of tidal marsh. The river flows through the Delta have been totally altered. There is now less than 34% of original water flow into the Delta and 46% less water is leaving the Delta that has in the past. The normal seasonal water flow patterns have been altered to the point where increased export pumping has made the Delta the only place in the world where water flows uphill. Because of the construction of dams and levees, habitat and spawning areas upstream from the Delta have been reduced by at least 70%. With increased export pumping salinity has drastically increased. If you read last month's Conservation article you realize  that farming is the biggest producer of toxins and pollution in the Delta, followed closely by cities that add polluted waste water and other contaminants.
 
Numerically, the native species have been long since been passed by non-native species. In talking with fish and game biologist from DFG and USFWS, I have been told that there are now over 140 non-native species in the Delta. The invasive species include plankton, plants, clams, and fish and have been brought to the Delta by fisherman, marine shipping sources, aquarium hobbyists, and wildlife agencies. The species that evolved within the Delta are now trying to exist in an environment that was non-existent when they evolved.
 
In addition to the biologically caused stresses listed, there and many other causes of stress. This includes stress caused by contaminants from agriculture, old mine waste (e.g. the Penn Mine disaster on the Mokelumne), and urban and waste water runoff .

 
Egeria Densa in Old River. Originally from Brazil, and sold as a decorative plant for aquariums. Someone emptied their aquarium into the delta and this is the result. 

Water flow is also a major source of stress on native species. Upstream from the Delta, 56% of the water is diverted. Of the water reaching the Delta, 9% is used and 35% is exported via the pumps. The seasonal change in flow patterns also has caused huge problems especially with the salmon runs. Change of flow patterns caused by dredging for the ports of Stockton and Sacramento along with the loss of water from the San Joaquin River create major problems too. And the Delta's eastside disruptions and reductions  in stream flow from the Mokelumne,  Consumes, and the Calaveras Rivers and increases in groundwater pumping create still more issues for the Delta and its native species.
 
Loss of habitat is another major form of stress in the Delta. There is major loss of spawning habitat from the Delta because of dams, a reduction of riparian habitat, and a loss original tidal marshlands. More than 70% of original spawning habitats no longer exist.
 
The ongoing changes in the conditions taking place in the ocean also have a major negative effect on native species such as the variations in the upwelling of the nutrient-rich Humboldt current, EL Nino, La Nina, current and temperature oscillations etc..
 
And lastly, the authors point out that ocean, inland, and recreational anglers all have significantly helped in the reduction of the native fish species . But they also point out that the major loss of our native fish is directly or indirectly related to the state of California's water management policies

The authors have come to six conclusions in their article but make the point that these conclusions are not final.
 

 
Can the declining salmon stocks be restored by good fisheries and water management or is this their last gasp? Will corn, cotton and almonds replace this iconic fish?

First, the native species numbers are declining for many reasons. However, they make the point that over the last 150 years water and land users bears a major responsibility in the decline.
 
Second, turning the currently existing stressful  conditions around to the original conditions is impossible and our current existing  situation is not sustainable.
 
Third, the ecosystem must now be focused on support of a mixture of native and other species that can be sustained and thrive under these conditions.   
 
 Fourth, groups with interest in the Delta are going to take part in and help pay for a solution that is going to be effective. 
 
Fifth, it will not be possible to come to an effective system to revive the Delta without scientific leadership (that does not included the pseudo-science of groups like the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, Westlands Water District, and the Stuart Resnicks' of the southern San Joaquin Valley etc.)
 
Sixth, this is not an easily obtainable goal. And, "we will not get it right the first time." We have a problem that started 150 years ago and is continuing .To expect a quick fix is not rational and it will not occur.
 
Ten years ago, in my naivety, I ask Joe Merz, supervising biologist for East Bay Municipal Utility District, about how the Mokelumne was going to be restored. His answer was that the Moke and the rest of California's water system can never be restored to its original state. Eight generations have passed since water issues have become a major issue in California. When I was born there were 8 million people living in California. Now we are approaching 39 million people living in the state. The best we can hope for is a stable habitat and sustainable native and desirable non-native plants and animals.
 
California's water policy is like a speeding train that has been headed in the wrong direction of over 100 years. Unfortunately, the train as been engineered by mediocre leadership of our elected officials and state agency's and has been fueled by corporate agribusiness and urban-water district greed. I doubt I will live long enough to see a much-needed change in direction of this train.
 
 
Ron Forbes
Conservation Chair

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