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Water Woes - A New Report about Endangered Species and Water

Barry Nelson

Posted November 14, 2012

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Salmon Index Blog Series

  • Water Woes - A New Report About Endangered Species and Water

The new report Water Woes, by the Endangered Species Coalition, reveals how water management has affected a wide range of species listed under the Endangered Species Act.  It’s appropriate for this ESC report to focus on water issues, after all, in North America, fish are moving more rapidly toward extinction than birds or mammals.

An analysis by the U.S. Geological Service reveals that, between 1989 and 2006, 57 fish species went extinct in North America – a pace that is 877 times the previous, background rate of extinction.   It also found that, if the current rate continues, an additional 53 to 86 species will be lost by 2050. 

It’s also appropriate that salmon were among the species highlighted in this new report, including salmon in the Bay-Delta ecosystem.  In the San Francisco Bay-Delta, there are six species listed or proposed for listing under state and federal law – winter-run Chinook salmon, spring-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, green sturgeon, delta smelt and longfin smelt.  Of those, the salmon species are perhaps most imperiled.  

The Salmon Doubling Index that NRDC released yesterday presents a snapshot of how all runs of salmon in the Central Valley are faring. Not surprisingly, the listed runs are at a particularly precarious point.  For example, the federal doubling goal for Central Valley Spring-run Chinook salmon is 68,000 wild fish. Yet in 2011, only 3,060 wild fish returned to Central Valley streams.  The Winter-run is in even more trouble, despite a doubling goal of 110,000 naturally reproducing fish, only 739 wild fish returned in 2011, including a single lonely salmon in Battle Creek.  The additional life-support efforts of hatcheries don’t add many more fish to these runs. In 2011, just 88 Winter-run returned to hatcheries, and just 1,969 Spring-run.  

The new ESC report highlights the need to protect rivers and streams across the nation.  And the report’s focus on salmon highlights how important protecting these aquatic ecosystems is to Californians. 

Fortunately, there is some good news in the effort to restore California’s salmon. My colleague Monty Schmitt will write about that tomorrow.

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MikeNov 15 2012 01:56 PM

People interested in the health of the nation’s aquatic ecosystems should be aware that NRDC omitted critical information in this blog that affects how we need to address habitat improvements in the Delta.

The author of the report cited in this blog, USGS fish biologist Noel Burkhead, was quoted in an August 10, 2012 story by Environmental & Energy writer Laura Petersen. Petersen’s story is linked in the blog but is incorrectly labeled as “…analysis by the U.S. Geological Survey”

Petersen’s story said, “While he plans to further explore causes for the extinctions in future papers, Burkhead noted that habitat destruction and invasive species are two leading factors. The two most important impacts in the Delta, according to Burkhead, are the elimination of much of the beneficial aquatic habitat and predatory fish, which have exploded, more than doubling in the last 25 years.

In the face of more and more science to the contrary, how anyone can continue to tie water operations to the disaster that has befallen native fish species in the Delta is utterly incomprehensible.

Mike Wade
California Farm Water Coalition

Sam JNov 15 2012 02:36 PM

Perhaps what is more incomprehensible is the belief that aquatic habitat and water management aren't linked.

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