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GSSA/Public Asks Federal Officials to Intercede in New Water Operations Rules in CA

San Francisco  —  In a petition written by GSSA, 1500 Californians have asked NMFS and the USFWS heads to step in to protect California’s Central Valley salmon runs.  The petition went to Janet Coit, Assistant Administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and Martha Williams, Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).   NMFS and the USFWS play a key role in making sure that species protections are included in new operation rules currently being written that govern the federal Central Valley Project. The CVP’s dams, canals, pipes and massive Delta pumps all harm salmon and other native species.   The rewrite is happening because the Biden Administration acknowledged that the last set of rules, written by the Trump administration, failed to adequately protect fish and wildlife.

The federal agency overseeing the CVP, the Bureau of Reclamation, has said it plans to finalize a draft of the new operating rules by the end of December. Some of the state’s biggest agricultural water districts have made clear they oppose inclusion of the sort of enforceable requirements needed to protect species.

“Regular citizens are asking that California’s salmon, other native species, and those of us who have sustainably coexisted with nature, be allowed to survive through the 21st century,” said John McManus, president of the Golden State Salmon Association.  “If the feds fail to improve protections for our natural resources and native wildlife, we’ll see extinction of species that have been in California for tens of thousands of years. In addition, tens of thousands of people will lose family wage jobs.”

“What’s needed is to leave a little bit more water in the rivers to keep salmon and other wildlife alive,” said GSSA director Mike Aughney.  “We also need science-based temperature requirements for reservoirs and downstream spawning beds to avoid the massive die off of salmon eggs we’re seeing.  Those salmon kills have been caused by draining cold water from reservoirs like Shasta in order to deliver it to corporate agricultural operations.”

The petition asks the DC policy makers to do their own due diligence and not simply rely on the word of state bureaucrats that refuse to challenge the status quo.  Reducing water diversions isn’t going to wipe out agriculture in California but it will make water allocation fairer and give salmon a fighting chance.

The petition tells the DC policymakers that the salmon fishery isn’t the only casualty of California’s legacy of deference to corporate agricultural operations.  Many small communities in the Central Valley are seeing community wells go dry as big ag neighbors unsustainably overdraft local aquifers.  Underscoring the emergency, the USFWS recently found that existing rules are inadequate to keep longfin smelt, another native fish that shares water and habitat with salmon, from going extinct.  The Service proposed listing it as endangered under the ESA.  Requiring better river flows to protect longfin will also help protect salmon.

“Those causing the problems won’t fix them voluntarily.  We need strong, enforceable rules instead of the wobbly aspirational “targets” currently being discussed,” said GSSA director David Zeff.  “We need to manage our reservoirs more conservatively, making sure to leave enough water at the end of the irrigation season in case the following year is dry.”

“After starving the rivers and salmon of water for multiple years, we have a pitiful number of adults returning to reproduce this year,” said GSSA director Aughney. “We need rules that recover salmon and build toward the federal goal of one million naturally spawning salmon in the Central Valley.”

“The status quo has utterly failed to stop the downward spiral of our native fish, including salmon, said GSSA president McManus.  “Tinkering around the edges with water rules that have proven deadly to native fish and wildlife is not what’s needed now.   Though far from perfect, a few short years ago we had better federal protections in place and strong support for making them even better.  We’re asking the Biden Administration to throw out the old Trump water rules and give us something that will finally protect salmon and other endangered fish.  We’re asking that they please be bold.  That’s what is needed now.”

About GSSA

The Golden State Salmon Association ( is a coalition of salmon advocates that includes commercial and recreational salmon fishermen and women, businesses, restaurants, a native tribe, environmentalists, elected officials, families and communities that rely on salmon. GSSA’s mission is to restore California salmon for their economic, recreational, commercial, environmental, cultural and health values.  

Currently, California’s salmon industry is valued at $1.4 billion in economic activity and 23,000 jobs annually in a normal season and about half that much in economic activity and jobs again in Oregon. Industry workers benefiting from Central Valley salmon stretch from Santa Barbara to northern Oregon. This includes commercial fishermen and women, recreational fishermen and women (fresh and salt water), fish processors, marinas, coastal communities, equipment manufacturers, the hotel and food industry, tribes, and others.

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