With the election of Trump, some of the smaller proposition results have flown under the radar as to the long term impact to fishing as we know it in the California Delta and ocean.
Proposition 53 -The California Voter Approval Requirement for Revenue Bonds above $2 Billion Initiative- would have given Northern California a say over the Jerry Brown Delta Water diversion tunnels project. It was defeated by less than 1% of the vote – aprox 450,000 votes- out of a California population of 38 milllion. The Califonria Delta Estuary is already facing the largest extinction event on the planet since the dinosaurs and the diversion of more water by the Tunnels Project will spell the end of the Delta as we know it. Large-scale water diversion in the Bay’s watershed severely limits the amount of fresh water that reaches the Bay and alters the timing of that flow. Inflow to the Bay from its Central Valley watershed now averages less than half of what it would be without diversions; in some years just one-third of the runoff makes it to the Bay. The result is a nearly permanent drought for the Bay’s fish, wildlife, and their habitats. This radical alteration creates severe consequences for the Bay and marine ecosystems – and Bay Area residents pay the price.
The San Francisco Bay Estuary is created by the mixing of fresh water from the Central Valley’s rivers with salt water from the Pacific Ocean. Dramatically reducing the inflow of fresh water generates cascading effects in the Bay’s watershed, the Bay itself, and coastal ocean waters.
- On average, since 1975 more than half (53%) of runoff from the Central Valley watershed has been diverted, stored, or exported before it can reach the Bay – and in many years two-thirds or more of the Bay’s inflow is captured;
- As a result of intensive water diversions, the Bay experiences catastrophically dry years almost half the time (only one “supercritically dry” year occurred naturally between 1975-2014, but the Bay experienced nineteen supercritical years during that period);
- Numerous unrelated fish species – from sharks to salmon, from sturgeon to smelt – show strong positive correlations with Bay Inflow; many of these species are now endangered, and even commercially viable fisheries are in decline;
- Predators that feed on flow-dependent fish and shrimp are feeling the pinch – for example, dwindling supplies of Central Valley Chinook salmon may restrict the recovery of the local Orca whale population;
- Blooms of toxic “algae” (cyanobacteria) are becoming more frequent, and other pollutants are becoming more concentrated, as a result of reductions in freshwater flows from the Bay’s watershed;
- Bay Area beaches and tidal wetlands are deprived of sediment that was once transported by high river flows
So little water is flowing from the rivers that feed the estuary, which includes the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, Suisun Marsh and the bay, that its ecosystem is collapsing. According to Peter Moyle, a Fisheries Biologist from UCD and probably the most knowledgeable human alive when it comes to understanding the Delta, of the roughly 120 native freshwater fish species in California, “over 80 percent of those are faced with extinction by the end of the century if current trends continue.”
Im afraid that the defeat of Prop 53 marks the loss of a long battle to save the Delta. It’s over and we have lost. Fish and enjoy now. Don’t put off a trip to the Delta or the Sac if you have a chance to go. We are looking at the good old days right now.