Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

August 21, 2018

Zinke targets California water, threatening salmon and rivers

Photo Salmon River, Calif.
Secretary Zinke issues memo to maximize federal water deliveries at expense of fisheries

By Dan Bacher
Censored News

On Friday, August 17, U.S. Secretary of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued a controversial memo calling for actions to be taken to "maximize Central Valley Project deliveries" to agribusiness and other water contractors.

These actions include "streamlining" Endangered Species Act (ESA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) consultations, reassessing legal interpretations, identifying infrastructure upgrades, and preparing legislative and litigation measures. 
Fishing groups, conservation organizations, Tribes and environmental justice groups oppose these actions that will result in diverting water needed to restore imperiled populations of salmon, steelhead and other fish species in the San Joaquin, Sacramento and Klamath/Trinity River watersheds.

The memo was spurred by the apparent failure of negotiations on water between the state and federal government. "While the State and Federal Governments have engaged in negotiations, our infrastructure has degraded," wrote Zinke.
In the memo, Zinke pinpointed "unacceptable restrictions that further reduce the Department's ability to deliver water to Federal contractors," referring to the State Water Resources Control Board's proposed new flow standards for the San Joaquin River and three of its lower tributaries — the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced — and new south Delta salinity standards.
"Today, the Central Valley Project is in such a desperate state of disrepair that it cannot effectively achieve its design capacity operations without the assistance of California's own State Water Project to move water," Secretary Zinke writes.
"The State of California is now proposing additional unacceptable restrictions that further reduce the Department's ability to deliver water to Federal contractors.  Our operational needs and our environmental regulations must innovate, incorporate best science, implement best practices, and produce greater reliability and better stewardship," Zinke claims.  "The time for action is now."
Secretary Zinke then directs the Solicitor, the Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, the Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Services to prepare an initial plan of action within 15 days that contains options for "maximizing water supply deliveries," according to Maven's Notebook.
The plan will include "incorporating best science into decision making, streamlining ESA and NEPA consultations, moving to construction of new storage, identifying infrastructure improvements necessary to independently operate the CVP, reassessing legal interpretations adopted to 2009, and preparing legislative and litigation measures."
After 10 days of receiving the initial plan of action, the Office of the Deputy Secretary will provide a final recommendation for action.
John McManus, President of the Golden Gate Salmon Association,  slammed the memo as an attempt by the Trump administration to direct water to corporate agribusiness interests in the San Joaquin Valley. 
"The Trump administration is instructing the former lobbyist (David Bernhardt) for the almond growers in the western San Joaquin Valley to seize what's left of California's water and direct it to a small number of agricultural operations contolled by loyalists," said McManus. "Clearly this is an effort to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of California.  This points to the need for the California legislature to quickly adopt SB 49, a bill that would protect California's water, air and wildlife from this blatant corruption from the Trump administration."
In a tweet, Restore the Delta responded to Zinke's memo:
 "The tunnels are existential threat #1 to the Delta. Secretary Zinke's Plan for the Delta is also existential threat #1. We are an ecosystem, economy, & people, not just water donors. And damn it, we have a right to thrive!"
Read the memo here at Maven's Notebook:  8.17.18 Memo 
The Zinke memo is just the latest attack on state water rights and fish and wildlife protections by the Trump administration. On August 8, Secretary of Commerce Commerce Wilbur Ross issued a directive stating that "the protection of life and property takes precedence over any current agreements regarding the use of water in the areas of California affected by wildfires."  
"Consistent with the emergency consultation provisions under the ESA, Federal agencies may use any water as necessary to protect life and property in the affected areas. Based on this directive, NOAA will facilitate the use of water for this emergency. Going forward, the Department and NOAA are committed to finding new solutions to address threatened and endangered species in the context of the challenging water management situation in California," said Ross.
John McManus, President of the Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA), responded to Ross's statement, noting that he was puzzled by "what additional actions he was asking federal employees to take." He also said he disagreed with Ross that the "federal government should hijack California's wildfires to impose weaker protections for our fish and wildlife." Here's his full statement:
"Today, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Rossordered the National Marine Fisheries Service to take undefined actions intended to provide water that's already available to firefighters.   
Secretary Ross correctly points out that emergency provisions under the federal Endangered Species Act already allow firefighters to use any water needed to protect life and property threatened by wildfires, so it's puzzling what additional action he's asking federal employees to take.   
We all agree public safety is the first priority. We disagree with Secretary Ross that the federal government should hijack California's wildfires to impose weaker protections for our fish and wildlife. 
A bill languishing in the state legislature, Senate Bill 49, would go a long ways towards confirming common sense protections for fish and wildlifewhile leaving firefighters, who know best how to fight fire, to do their jobs."
As if the devastating fires ravaging the state and the Trump administration's latest attacks on California water rights and fish protections weren't bad enough,  Jerry Brown and the Trump administration, in spite of their political differences on water, have teamed up on what opponents call the most environmentally destructive public works project in the California history, the Delta Tunnels.
The tunnels project — also known as the California Water Fix — consists of two massive 35-mile long tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to facilitate the export of water to San Joaquin Valley corporate agribusiness interests, oil companies conducting fracking and other extreme extraction methods and Southern California water agencies. 
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