New Report: Providing Water for Fish Is the Surest Way to Create Water Supply Reliability for California Farms and Cities


July 23, 2008
12:20 PM 

CONTACT: Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396,
Jennifer Witherspoon, 415-293-6067,


New Report: Providing Water for Fish Is the Surest Way to Create Water Supply Reliability for California Farms and Cities


SAN FRANCISCO – July 23 – California’s salmon are teetering on the edge of extinction and the salmon fishing industry is facing economic devastation, but a report released today establishes a framework to help address this crisis. The report concludes that providing a more reliable water supply for the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary could help save fish, including salmon, while also helping to ensure adequate water for farms, cities, and the 25 million Californians who rely on the Bay-Delta’s water.


The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) report is titled “Finding the Balance: A Vision for Water Supply and Environmental Reliability in California.” The report outlines steps that state and federal leaders must take to end a vicious cycle of water shortages and environmental near-disasters, and instead create a stable and reliable water supply. That, in turn, should help guarantee environmental reliability – a condition where all necessary ecological, political and economic systems are in place to ensure the Bay Delta and its fisheries are self-sustaining into the future.


“Our water supplies will remain vulnerable as long as we allow the environment to remain at the brink of disaster,” said Laura Harnish, EDF’s Regional Director in San Francisco and an author of the report. “For decades, water users have sought to pump additional water out of our Central Valley streams, then species have declined, and ultimately the courts are forced to step in to prevent an environmental catastrophe. This paper outlines a way to break our endless, self-defeating water cycle and improve both water supply and environmental reliability for California’s future.”


California has been mired in water wars for much of its history, but the situation is now particularly severe. The state’s once prolific and profitable salmon fishery is at its lowest ebb in decades, and this year’s salmon season was closed for the first time ever, resulting in huge economic losses to the fishing industry. Parts of California’s famed agricultural economy also are suffering losses this summer because of severe drought, and courts have been forced to order water cutbacks to protect endangered fish, including salmon and the Delta smelt – the “canary in the coal mine” for the health of the overall Bay-Delta system.


State and policy leaders have launched several efforts to address the crises, including creating the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Delta Vision Task Force, supporting an Assembly bill to release emergency funds raised by earlier bonds, and proposing a new $9.3 billion water bond just announced by the governor. A local think tank, the Public Policy Institute of California, also recently released a report supporting the construction of a new peripheral canal around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.


“We have great opportunity right now to create a reliable water supply for future generations of Californians and for salmon as well,” said Cynthia Koehler, an environmental lawyer and consultant for EDF, and an author of the report. “If the plans under development can meet the criteria we set out in this report, we can have a system that meets all our environmental and water supply needs in the long term.”


The report’s recommendations include:


* Provide adequate freshwater flows to restore fisheries and habitat in the Bay-Delta to self-sustaining levels, and make sure the projected levels take into account the looming effects of global warming; 

* Guarantee stable and secure funding so that key restoration projects are not merely planned, but executed; 

* Create financial incentives that will encourage all Californians to do a far better job of conserving water; 

* Create legally mandated performance measures and legal safety nets; 

* Improve enforcement so that water managers will be held accountable and promises will be kept.


“We believe that California has enough water for its people, farms, and fish,” said Harnish. “If we manage our water better, we can protect our state’s economy and our environment. We can have a thriving fishing industry in the future, and we can make sure our farms are able to produce the food and jobs that we need.”



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