April 5, 2012

The National Research Council and the Sacramento Delta

By Damien M. Schiff Senior Attorney
Photo by Matthew Trump, courtesy of Decumanus

Last week, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences issued a pre-publication edition of its Sustainable Water and Environmental Management in the California Bay-DeltaDuring the height of the Delta pumps crisis, the Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce asked the Council to produce a report addressing how the Delta “problem”—satisfying domestic, industrial, and agricultural demands as well as environmental needs—can be solved.  The report published last week goes into great detail over the various “stressors” to the Delta, but does not really propose any solution, other than the recommendation to stakeholders that water “scarcity” must be accepted as the norm going forward.

Nevertheless, the report makes a few observations worth highlighting.

First, the report concludes that dams are “significant stressors” for a number of salmonid species.

Second, the Delta pumps are an “episodic stressor” that has a “significant effect” on the Delta smelt, although it is “very difficult” to assess the full extent of that impact.

Third, the report urges the adoption of “life cycle” models for managing pumping.  This is important because, during the Delta smelt litigation before Judge Wanger, a major criticism of the water users was that the biological opinion had failed to use a Delta smelt life cycle model.

Fourth, the report could not reach a conclusion on whether or how much fish hatcheries have contributed to the decline of salmonids.

Fifth, the report acknowledges that ocean conditions are a significant driver of salmonid survival.

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