“As biologists, we call those ecosystem inputs,” he says with a laugh. “Everybody wants to be the good guy, and do right by the environment,” he says. Based on data collected in early 2017, US Fish and Wildlife extrapolated that about 48,000 were still surfing the sloughs, but researchers say it’s unclear how many delta smelt still exist in the wild. 9/25, However, it only entered the national stage in 2009, when Hannity dedicated a special to the species, which alleged “incredible suffering in this region because of a government that has put the interest of a two inch delta smelt … before the people of California” 10/25, The delta smelt would go on to be labeled as a “stupid little fish” by Congressman Devin Nunes. 15/25, Hannity’s focus on the delta smelt brought the species out of obscurity, making it a symbol for all that was supposedly wrong with California, liberals, and environmentalism. “I read the criticisms of the new biological opinions,” he says. 4/25, This area, known locally as “the Delta,” is the lynchpin of California’s water system. “And I have to ask myself, have the people expressing those criticisms read the same document?”. Delta smelt are often portrayed in the media as the useless fish responsible for farmers losing crops and jobs. “The smelt are just a scapegoat,” Rosenfield says. I was bombarded w/ messages about Trump’s claims about California water & a “certain little tiny fish,” the delta smelt, the topic of my dissertation & current book project. All rights reserved. AB 1325, as introduced, Salas. Here it is a thread, I was bombarded w/ messages about Trump’s claims about California water & a “certain little tiny fish,” the delta smelt, the topic of my dissertation & current book project. From COVID-19 to the climate emergency: Lessons from this global crisis for the next one, Trump's USDA is serving up diseased chicken, The importance of a regenerative food system for sustainable agriculture. On October 14, Restore the Delta shared a thread from Caleb Scoville Ph.D., Asst. For conservationists and ecologists like Durand, the delta smelt are harbingers, their diminishing numbers a signal that the delta’s ecosystem is dangerously close to collapse. All the while, delta smelt have also been coping with the encroachment of invasive species. And as soon as the CDFW fall midwater trawl survey results are in, I will share them here. (Then the book!) If enough fresh water isn’t, to paraphrase Donald Trump, shoved out to sea, the sea will shove into shore, flooding the estuary with salt water. 11/25, A systematic scientific analysis of restrictions on Delta water use refutes these claims. Westlands contests that the biological opinion benefits them in any way. He and other officials who drafted the reports “are career professionals”, Souza said in a statement to the Guardian. “I don’t know how much more stress the system can take.”, Available for everyone, funded by readers. “I believe that, having talked to some of the local farmers and ranchers in this area.”, The trouble is, once environmental groups and government officials start talking about reallocating water rights and rationing, “those are triggers, those are fighting words in California”, he says. “What the new biological opinions do is provide a degree of operational flexibility,” he says, allowing the pumps to take more water when more is available. The Delta Smelt Hypomesus transpacificus is a small translucent fish that lives in the heart of California's water distribution system. “They don’t have little ankle bracelets on them, we can’t track every single fish.”. LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL'S DIGEST. Then the crew lifts the net up, splashes the contents into a bucket. ‘They send millions of gallons of water out to sea, out to the Pacific. Delta Smelt and Water Politics in California February 13, 2018 Journal Reviews The Delta Smelt Hypomesus transpacificus is a small translucent fish that lives in the heart of California’s water distribution system. Though its historic range encompassed, at different times, the entire Delta and parts of Suisun Bay, our diversion of that freshwater for our own uses has changed the smelt's habitat. Trump was merely repeating a narrative that Hannity himself popularized over a decade ago. Paul Souza, the US Fish and Wildlife official who oversaw the drafting of the biological opinions, says, “there’s absolutely no connection” between Bernhardt’s past work with Westlands and the results presented in the biological opinion. Not only is Newsom promoting the Delta Tunnel, but he is pushing the Sites Reservoir project and the Big Ag-backed voluntary agreements that, combined with the tunnel project, are likely to hasten the extinction of not only Delta smelt,  but also long fin smelt, Central Valley steelhead, winter and spring-run Chinook salmon, green sturgeon and an array of other fish species. 6/25, Trump says California had to ration water because it poured its supply into the sea to ‘take care…, ‘They send millions of gallons of water out to sea, out to the Pacific. The smelt are poor swimmers, and they’re drawn to cloudy, turbid patches of water, where they like to hide and feed. Is food grown hydroponically as healthy as soil-grown crops. That little fish is the delta smelt. “As stewards of this state’s remarkable natural resources, we must do everything in our power to protect them,” Newsom announced. Thanks go to Dr. Scoville for writing this tweet thread and Restore the Delta for sharing it. Harbingers of a diminishing ecosystem, the smelt are almost extinct. “In the meantime, know what’s ironic?” says Rosenfield. Invasive overbite clams and Asian clams have been leaving the smelt with less to eat. The delta is the most contentious body of water in California, pulled in all directions by powerful interests. I wrote a short reaction piece but was unable to get it published as an oped. Decades of water exports and environmental degradation under the state and federal governments have brought the smelt to the edge of extinction. California's Central Valley is a 450 mile long stretch of flat and fertile land that produces much of the food that we enjoy every day. In 2014, Bernhardt represented Westlands in an appeals case challenging Endangered Species Act protections for delta smelt. It is an endemic species that is on verge of extinction, largely because it is in direct competition with people for water. A key area of controversy centers on impacts to delta smelt associated with exporting large volumes of freshwater from the estuary to supply California’s significant agricultural and urban water demands. Protections have sometimes placed limits on water extracted from … businessinsider.com, However, the President’s statement, while factually incorrect, was far from unusual. I n late December 2017, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife revealed that its regular fall survey of the delta’s waters had captured a total of two smelt, the lowest in the survey’s 50-year history. 25/25. A 2012 study found that the whole system was, ultimately, inefficient, though the reclamation bureau says the program has been tweaked to separate predators and make the experience more comfortable for the fish. The delta smelt lives in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the West Coast's largest estuary that supplies water to Central Valley farms and millions of Southern California residents. In spite of portraying their administrations as “green,” Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom did nothing to reverse the slide towards extinction. “It’s like the bass have been trained to show up at certain times to feed,” Rosenfield says. It’s about the politics of “us” and “them.” 8/25 . Watchdog groups say Bernhardt hasn’t quite kept his word. In the Consolidated Delta Smelt Cases, the acting federal agency is the Bureau, in coordination with DWR, and the agency action is the operations of the Projects diverting water from the Delta to southern California, or “south of the Delta exports. Here it is a thread 1/25 pic.twitter.com/AlNYTCskdq, — Caleb Scoville (@calebscoville) October 14, 2020, The Real Meaning of Trump’s “Bizarre” Claims About California Water Politics: Trump’s recent behavior may be erratic, but his statements on California water politics have been remarkably consistent. At the helm, Christopher Jasper, a graduate student, motors forward, dragging the trawl down the slough for five minutes. Protections have sometimes placed limits on water extracted from its habitat, although far less than is often claimed. “American shad, 67mm,” yells Caroline Newell, her indigo hair exploding out of the back of her UC Davis baseball cap. California's Delta smelt are dying: How this affects the state's water. Durand says he’s sick of talking about delta smelt. “At the end of the day, sure, it’s just a crummy little fish and there aren’t a lot of them left,” he says. Found only in the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary, the smelt is an indicator species that shows the health of the ecosystem. I'll eventually have a piece on the politics out, as well as something on the science-law interface. “The ‘real-time management’ part especially has some huge air quotes around it.” The idea is that federal scientists will monitor the water, and signal for the pumps to be turned down. It has been a player in California’s water policy for decades. 7/25, For Trump and Hannity, the delta smelt controversy is not simply about water in California. Even if they could, turning down the pumps isn’t quite as easy as shutting off a faucet. 18/25, Hannity and other conservative elites outside of California used the delta smelt’s small size and uncharismatic appearance to suggest that liberals in faraway cities care more about a “stupid little fish” than ordinary Americans. The delta smelt is endemic to the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta in California, where it is distributed from the Suisun Bay upstream through the delta in Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, and Solano Counties. For the second year in a row, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s annual fall midwater trawl survey in 2019 found zero Delta smelt during the months of September, October, November and December. Westlands, he says, is being unfairly antagonized by environmental groups. By the time the two agencies coordinate with each other and taper down the pumping, “these fish are already dying”, Rosenfield says. It’s about the politics of “us” and “them.” 8/25, The delta smelt is listed under the Endangered Species Act. “Where do we draw the line?” Durand says. But in California, it's representative of a decades old clash over water allocation. Is Coca Cola helping the environment? Last fall, Trump signed a memorandum directing federal agencies to review and roll back environmental standards slowing down the flow of water to farms in the Central Valley. Before joining the administration, Bernhardt worked as a lobbyist and lawyer for the Westlands Water District, the nation’s largest agricultural water contractor. Because they want to take care of certain little tiny fish.’, https://escholarship.org/uc/item/8mh3r97j…. It’s not just the overpumping, but the pumps themselves that have strained the smelt. Dung from these cows, and runoff from the nut orchards and fruit farms a few yards inland infuse nutrients into the water that triggers algal blooms. Now, forces within the Trump administration could usher them into oblivion, Sun 22 Dec 2019 01.00 EST 23/25, Stoking partisan resentment by mobilizing the delta smelt has become an electorally convenient way to avoid talking about climate change and other systemic environmental problems that threaten humans and aquatic ecosystems alike. In February this year, the president nominated David Bernhardt to serve as his interior secretary. In response to the federal government’s chipping away of protections for endangered fish, environmental and fishing industry groups have banded together to sue the federal government, as well, alleging that fewer protections for smelt, steelhead trout, and Chinook salmon will devastate the delta ecosystem and commercial fisheries will be the collateral. CALIFORNIA / Delta smelt numbers plunge / Debate over state's pumping of water after only 25 found Patrick Hoge , Chronicle Staff Writer May 22, 2007 Updated: Jan. 17, 2012 7:36 p.m. In response, the federal reclamation commissioner, Brenda Burman, derided Newsom’s preference “to have judges dictate these important projects instead of the career professionals at the federal and state levels who have developed a plan based on the best science and significant input from the public.” If Californians want a legal fight, she said in a statement to the Guardian, “that’s their choice, we’ll see them in court”. The multi-story state and federal pumping plants operate in tandem and are powerful enough to make rivers flow backward. “It’s funny, because the smelt are a small fish, and now they’re a rare fish, but they still loom large over all our environmental and water policies,” he adds. this piece published by the Business Insider. “Cache Slough right here had been known as a hotspot for delta smelt,” he says. Leaning back in the boat, Durand watches his crew of students and research assistants toss a cone-shaped net off the stern, arc through the air and splash into the water. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has finalized a plan that threatens the Delta smelt, salmon and other fish species even more than they already are by maximizing Delta water exports to corporate agribusiness interests in the San Joaquin Valley. We should acknowledge what he is doing and refuse to take the bait. Even as he oversaw a board effort to weaken Endangered Species Act protections to ease conditions for the oil and logging industries, he delivered a huge victory to Westlands, rolling back protections for the delta smelt and the endangered Chinook salmon and paving the way for more pumping. Soon after UC Davis researchers first began sampling in the delta, nearly 40 years ago, the delta smelt populations suffered a huge blow: their numbers had suddenly declined by more than 80%. And thank you. California has a new endangered species on its hands in the San Joaquin Valley—farmers. But no smelt. In 2016 Trump pointed to the delta smelt as evidence that “there is no drought” in California. It’s unclear how many smelt are left in the estuary. Now, the creatures caught in the crossfire of the state’s water wars have all but disappeared, and biologists worry that newly empowered forces within the Trump administration could usher them into oblivion. Learn how your comment data is processed. Back on the research boat, as an afternoon of sampling winds down, and the weather warms and mellows and stills, it’s impossible not to notice the spicy scent of dung and fertilizer in the air. (Full article here: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/8mh3r97j…) 14/25, Why all the focus on the delta smelt, then? We cover climate change, clean energy, solar power, healthy food, and the national and local politics and policy that make it all possible. He helped create it. For Trump and Hannity, the delta smelt controversy is not simply about water in California. At a March 2016 campaign rally in Fresno, California – in the state’s agricultural heartland – then presidential candidate Trump mocked the environmentalists who were desperate “to protect a certain kind of three-inch fish”. Upon taking office, he named the water district in his ethics recusal letter, promising not to “participate personally and substantially” in policy issues that could affect his former clients, unless he obtained a waiver. “The next generations of Californians deserve nothing less.”. “Even if the smelt disappeared, and we no longer had to worry about protecting them, it’s not like we could get much more water out of the system.”. 2/25, In one of his first interviews after being diagnosed with COVID-19, President Trump complained to Sean Hannity of Fox News that California has to “ration” water because it pours its supply into the sea to “take care of certain little tiny fish.” 3/25, The fish in question is the delta smelt, an endangered species that is found only in the northeastern part of San Francisco Bay, where it receives the flow of the mighty rivers that drain the Sierra Nevada. Even Donald Trump has an opinion on the delta smelt. I wrote a short reaction piece but was unable to get it published as an oped. In an attempt to engineer their way out of problems born from an over-engineered ecosystem, the US Bureau of Reclamation built a “fish collection facility” a couple of miles north of the pumps. Birmingham points out that the provision to convert its contract is courtesy of a 2016 law, which was approved by a bipartisan Congress and signed into law by Barack Obama. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. The tiny fish, known as the delta smelt, has helped touch off some of the most cataclysmic battles in California’s unending water wars. A 2019 study by Rosenfield and his colleagues at the San Francisco Bay Institute and the Nature Conservancy found that the amount of water the pumps could pull was most often limited by the need to keep saltwater at bay. “It’s a lot to put on a little fish.”. © 2020 Guardian News & Media Limited or its affiliated companies. Agriculture and nature can work together, Durand says, so long as people are willing to let them. The delta smelt once thrived in the delta and were found by the thousands up until 5 years ago. “I have confidence in the ability of the agencies to conduct real-time monitoring, and to adjust operations of the project based on real-time monitoring,” he says, noting that federal and state operations are already using these techniques to scan the estuary for turbid conditions that could attract smelt. The Delta Smelt (family Osmeridae) is one of a suite of fishes endemic to California’s Central Valley, most of which are in decline (Moyle 2002; Moyle et al. 20/25, Climate change is making California’s weather more volatile, reducing snowpack in mountains, causing seawater intrusion in the Delta, and straining aging infrastructure. The agency touted “smarter delta operations through real-time adaptive management and greater management oversight of delta pumping operations informed by updated science” to help the smelt and other endangered species recover even as the mammoth state and federal pumps drained more water out of the ecosystem. “They have farms here and they don’t get water,” he said, as the crowd, holding up green “Farmers for Trump” signs booed. “Revolutions are expensive, I guess, and no one wants to be the one to pay for them.”. Durand points at a group of cows, sleepily grazing and dumping at the banks of Cache Slough. Your email address will not be published. For Trump and Hannity, the delta smelt controversy is not simply about water in California. The trouble is, the behemoth pumps run by the state and federal government, which can draw up to 10,000 and 5,500 cubic feet of water per second, respectively, can cause rivers to run backward, sucking smelt and other fish into their system. Delta Smelt and the Environment The fate of the Delta smelt is part of a continuing controversy over the fate of the faltering Delta ecosystem—the hub of the state’s water supply. The federally endangered delta smelt, a minnow on the brink of extinction, is at the heart of a bitter struggle over the use of California’s most important estuary, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Required fields are marked *. California’s state government has joined the morass as well: California’s governor Gavin Newsom declared that the state is drafting litigation as well. In fact, Governor Newsom is currently fast-tracking the construction of the Delta Tunnel, considered potentially the most environmentally destructive public works project in California history by fish advocates, scientists, Tribal leaders, recreational and commercial fishermen, environmental justice leader, family farmers. That would have been enough to sustain 6.4 million Californians for six years. When regulations governing the species’ protection were being attacked in federal courts in the late 2000s, conservative opinion leaders seized on an opportunity to blame liberal environmentalists in cities for CA’s water woes. Does he think we’ll see any today? Because they want to take care of certain little tiny fish.’ California's Karuk Tribe leads effort to fight racism and climate change... with fire! “It’s ecological sampling – not surveillance,” Rosenfield says. RedGREENandBlue is part of the Important Media network of blogs working to make the world a better, greener place. During the presidential campaign, the lowly smelt turned up in Donald Trump’s gunsights, when he repeated California farmers’ claim that the government was … Or hurting? Ever since then, his administration has been making moves to make good on that pledge. Durand chuckles and combs his fingers through his white goatee. Fish headed toward the machinery are corralled with nets and redirected to collection tanks, where they’re catalogued before being trucked back into other parts of the estuary. Westlands has reportedly threatened to walk away from state efforts to broker water-sharing deals if Newsom sues. “We have led this effort with our teams over the past year and this is a career conservation professional documentation.”. From the deck of the research boat, gliding down Cache Slough, it’s easy enough to imagine how the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta used to look – before the Gold Rush, before colonial settlers built their farms and ranches, before they constrained the marsh with levees and cut its flow with dams and diversions, before massive pumps began sucking it dry, before all the infrastructure drove native wildlife to the brink of extinction. On a warm November morning, John Durand squints over the stern of a small research boat, and gestures toward gray-blue water, and the chaotic tangles of tube-like tule reeds. The Delta smelt, once the most abundant species on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, at this time continues to move closer and closer to extinction in the wild. That’s what the Romans did to punish their enemies.”In most years between 2011 and 2018 – at peak drought – maintenance issues, and a lack of storage capacity limited pumping more than the smelt did, as did protections for other threatened and endangered fish. It’s about the politics of “us” and “them.” 8/25 The delta smelt is listed under the Endangered Species Act. Those that make it through the labyrinth, face hordes of bass who swarm the spots where trucks release their bounty. “I’d guess at least a thousand or more, but we have no way of actually knowing,” Durand says. 2012). and about the fall 2018 survey and the spring 2019 survey here: California’s Delta Smelt are nearing extinction (But California water agencies don’t care). Most importantly, it demonstrates the immense power of media personalities. Delta smelt nears extinction The survival of a tiny fish, the delta smelt, is threatened by a lack of freshwater flows to its habitat. “Oh, you’re looking a little stressed there, buddy,” she says, struggling to lay a flailing Sacramento splittail flat so she can measure it, before tossing it overboard. But it’s pretty hard to know where exactly the smelt are – after all, they’ve eluded researchers for years. The striped bass and largemouth bass are invaders, as are Mississippi silversides, which feed on smelt eggs and young – though scientists have contested whether these predators are responsible for smelt declines. Hannity did not merely report on a controversy. Underlying many of these issues is the climate crisis, which has fueled extended periods of drought and heatwaves that have made the waters uncomfortably warm for smelt, and other species struggling to survive in a shifting delta ecosystem. I do have an article already out, but it's on a different dimension of the case (https://t.co/v2EgGSMRkm). Their numbers dipped even lower after a period of extended drought in the late 80s and early 90s, then lower still during California’s most recent drought, which lasted from 2012 through 2016. 16/25, The delta smelt controversy reveals important patterns underlying partisan controversies. 17/25, A look at Google search interest in delta smelt makes this clear. 09339-3, Your email address will not be published. 5/25, Commentators swooped in to point out the seemingly “bizarre” nature of Trump’s claim, e.g. “You cannot apply saltwater to farmland. The minuscule delta smelt, a ... outsize importance this weekend when Donald Trump speculated that it may be responsible for drought-stricken Fresno, California’s water woes. Shortly after the new biological opinions were released, Westlands concluded negotiations to permanently lock in its water service contract, which entitles them to 1.15m acre-feet of water per year – about twice what the city of Los Angeles uses annually. But this time of year, the system could use a bit of nutrient infusion to feed the delta’s fish. 22/25, Even when detached from underlying reality, political symbols like the delta smelt have consequences. The last time the UC Davis researchers caught one was in 2016. Many lawsuits have been filed in a dispute over the amount of water that … The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Surveyors from the California fish and wildlife department netted two in 2017, and none since. Interest in the species does not track its effect on water policy. The Delta Smelt is a small fish, endemic to California that only occurs in the San Francisco Estuary. “I’m not sure that the new biological opinions will produce a single drop of additional water for Westlands,” says Tom Birmingham, the agency’s general manager. Because most Delta smelt live for just one year, even temporary environmental changes can decimate the population. New reports, called biological opinions, released in October and overseen by the department’s Fish and Wildlife Service found that the salmon wouldn’t be imperiled, and a separate delta smelt opinion similarly concluded that the fish would be just fine. What’s next for smelt? For California farmers with thousands of acres to irrigate and millions of dollars on the line, the smelt are in the way – the state listed the species as endangered in 2009, and in effect constrained how much water can be pulled from the delta. But then their cousins, the longfin smelt, could disappear next, and then the steelhead trout, and then the various populations of Chinook salmon. “All right, what have we got?” Jasper positions his pen over a clipboard. “At this point, they barely register in the ecosystem.”. The smelt inhabits the boundary between fresh and salt water in the Delta, where ocean tides that bring saltwater into the estuary from the Pacific Ocean meet freshwater flows from California's rivers. “But then, every time we lose a species it’s just a sign that there are more losses to come.”, If the delta smelt go, California may be able to pump some more. As the one journalist in the country who has covered the demise of the Delta smelt for over 30 years, as well exposing in article after article the underlying cause of the Delta smelt’s march toward towards extinction — deep regulatory capture by corporate agribusiness and other Big Money interests — it’s good to see when somebody else takes interest in the issue. “It is so ridiculous they’re taking the water and shoving it out to sea.” That night, Trump promised the farmers more water. Instead, the largest spike in public interest in the delta smelt by far is in September 2009, when Hannity held his exposé on Fox News. 24/25, The next time the president makes false claims about water in California, his words should be taken for what they are: an attempt to divide Americans against their common interest in a livable planet. However, delta smelt continue to take the blame for the water controversy in California, often scapegoated when farmers face challenges involving water. 19/25, Although protections of the delta smelt are not the cause of California’s water problems, the state’s water system does face threats. So, why do they still get so many Californians so riled up? That’s much easier said than done, Rosenfield says. Sometimes, too many nutrients in the water cause plants and algae to overgrow, die and drain the system of oxygen. It is an endemic species that is on verge of extinction, largely because it is in direct competition with people for water. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by, and do not necessarily represent the views of Sustainable Enterprises Media, Inc., its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries. For Trump and Hannity, the delta smelt controversy is not simply about water in California. “The whole process is just beautiful,” he says. During these dry spells, California’s cities and farms needed to pump more and more delta water – leaving these fish without enough fresh, cold water to survive. The slender-bodied fish typically reaches about 60-70 mm to a maximum size of about 120 mm (Figures 1, 2 and 3). The agency serves some of California’s wealthiest, most powerful farmers – delivering up to 1.19m acre-feet of irrigation water from the delta each year. “The problem is, while they’re going through that system of canals, or waiting in a truck, they’re exposed to all these other fish, all these predators that are happily snacking on them the whole time,” says Jon Rosenfield, a fish biologist at San Francisco Baykeeper, an environmental watchdog group. When scientists from the marine fisheries service in July submitted a thousand-page report warning that more pumping would jeopardize several species including endangered winter-run Chinook salmon and the southern resident killer whales that eat salmon, the interior department pulled the document. 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