The State Water Board and the Declining Health of the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary

For Immediate Release: Monday, January 25, 2016
Brian Smith, 415/320-9384,

Sacramento, CA – Today, Restore the Delta held a teleconference entitled “The State Water Board and the Declining Health of the SF Bay-Delta Estuary.”

Listen to the teleconference.

The San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary is on the brink of environmental disaster. The fish, wildlife, drinking water, and the many other uses it provides are all declining due to massive water exports. The State Water Resources Control board still operates Delta outflow on a 20-year-old Water Quality Control Plan that was due to be revised in 1998. This outdated plan allows more than half the water needed for the Delta’s ecological health to be diverted away largely for unsustainable industrial agriculture in the southwest San Joaquin Valley. Now the State Water Board is considering permits for the Delta Tunnels without first updating the best available science about how to keep the SF Bay Delta Estuary alive.
The Delta Tunnels will destroy the sole source of drinking water for one million Delta residents, the physical environment and the state's most magnificent fisheries and breathtaking habitat for birds on the Pacific flyway – not to mention the agricultural and related economies for an additional three million Delta area residents. The Delta is not California's sacrifice zone.
On the call were a group of experts who have followed the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) for decades who were asked, “How did we get into this situation and what must be done to fix it, now?”
Here are samples from each of the speakers:
Tim Stroshane, policy analyst, Restore the Delta presented background on the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan and recent flow history (510) 847-7556

By 2005, scientists sounded the alarm in the media about the sudden collapse of yet more Delta fish species besides those already listed. They found that nonnative invasive shellfish in the Delta were concentrating selenium and other toxins in their tissues, threatening the health of Delta food webs.

All the while, state and federal water exports from the Delta increased 50 percent, from 3.6 million acre-feet in the 1970s to 5.4 million acre-feet in the 2000s.

Such dire conditions barely roused the Water Board to action, when staff in 2006 revised the 1995 plan, but changed none of its water quality objectives despite the Delta’s well documented collapse. Planning for the Governor’s Tunnels Project got under way that year too.

In 2009, the Legislature specifically ordered the Water Board to determine what flows Delta fish need, which it did in 2010. The Board has done its best to ignore its own findings.

Full Statement (updated)

Darcie Luce, Water Policy Specialist, Friends of the San Francisco Bay Estuary spoke on the Permanent Drought and Impacts on San Francisco Bay (510) 282-1254
“Last year’s State of the Estuary Report found that the status of freshwater inflow is poor and declining for both the Bay and Delta. Not only have we failed to improve the delivery of fresh water to the estuary, we’ve actually been doing a worse job in the past decade or so—and of course, that is evident in the widespread decline of fish species. In effect, we have created a chronic and artificial drought for our fish and wildlife that depend on the Bay-Delta Estuary. Dr. Peter Moyle, one of the foremost authorities on this subject, has stated that from a fish perspective, California has been in an increasingly severe drought since the 1960s; and that during this current extreme drought, the environment is the ‘water user’ that has suffered the most.”
Full Statement

Bill Jennings, chairman/executive director, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance spoke on the decline of Bay-Delta Fish Species 209-938-9053
“The biological tapestry of the Bay-Delta estuary is disintegrating and a number of species are on the brink to extinction. Fisheries, I might add, that evolved and prospered over thousands of years and survived the hundred-year mega droughts of the past.

Fish & Wildlife’s 2015 Fall Midwater Trawl demonstrates that, since 1967, populations of striped bass, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, American shad, splittail and threadfin shad have declined by 99.7, 98.3, 99.9, 97.7, 98.5 and 93.7 percent, respectively…

Since 1995, DWR and USBR have fully complied with Bay-Delta water quality objectives in only 8 of 21 years. The State Water Board has never taken an enforcement action for the thousands upon thousands of violations.

In addition, the State Board has routinely waived compliance with legally promulgated criteria explicitly enacted to protect fisheries and water quality during critical drought sequences. And the fishery agencies have consistently acquiesced in these actions.

For example, in 2014, the State Water Board reduced regulatory Delta outflow by 43% so they could increase water exports by 18%. In 2015, they reduced outflow by 78% in order to increase exports by 32%. In 2015, these changes shifted more than a million acre-feet from fisheries and water quality protection to agricultural use.

It should be noted, that Central Valley agricultural production has set new record highs in each of the drought years.

Failure to enforce temperature criteria on the upper Sacramento River led to the loss of 95% of winter-run, 98% of fall-run and virtually all of the spring-run Chinook salmon in 2014.”

Full Statement

Robert Wright, senior counsel, Friends of the River spoke on the State Water Board's duty under the law and the EPA's duties 916-442-3155
At present, the water for the exporters is taken at the south end of the Delta so the water provides environmental benefits throughout the Delta before being taken. The Water Fix Tunnels would take that water upstream, leading to enormous reductions of freshwater flows through the already imperiled Delta and worsen water quality violations including blue green algae.
The EPA explained that: “Water quality and aquatic life analyses in the SDEIS show that the proposed project may cause or contribute to violations of state water quality standards and significant degradation of waters of the U.S. . .” [p. 4]. Like the state agencies in the Flint catastrophe, the state agencies here are trying to ignore the red flags raised by the experts-the EPA- of a potential water quality disaster.
Full Statement

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director, Restore the Delta spoke on the need for a new Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan, upcoming hearings and what happens next 209-479-2053
“The members of the State Water Resources Control Board are extremely intelligent officials with a thorough understanding of science, water history, law, and California water management.  It is our belief that they do not want to set the course for destruction of the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas.  The question will be if they have the moral courage and fortitude to stand up to Governor Brown’s political push and the rewriting of state water history presented by Metropolitan Water District.  Ultimately, will they become heroes for protecting the public trust, the 1 million people of the Delta whose sole drinking water source is the Delta, our state’s iconic fisheries, the water starved San Francisco Bay, and California’s oldest agriculture economy?  Or will they capitulate and rubberstamp a project that will destroy the estuary and cannibalize California’s sustainable water future.”
Full Statement (updated)

Additional Resources

Restore the Delta, EJCW and EWC Letter
Letter to SWRCB on Pre-Hearing Conference on Jan. 28, 2016: Procedural issues

MWD Efforts to Change Water Quality Standards for the Bay-Delta Estuary
MWD Special Committee on Bay-Delta 1/26/16: Review of Historical Delta Outflow & Salinity Trends 3b presentation

MWD Record of Money Spent on Delta Tunnels Project/ Staff and Design, Construction
MWD Special Committee on Bay-Delta 1/26/16: Quarterly update on expenditures for BDCP 3c presentation

State Water Project Contractors Anticipated Increase in Water Deliveries with Delta Tunnels
KCWA Board of Directors meeting 12/16/15: CAWaterFix Improved Water Supply, Avg Annual SWP/CVP Exports (2025)

Construction Schedule for Delta Tunnels Facilitating Push for Swift Action by the SWRCB
KCWA Board of Directors meeting 12/16/15: CA WaterFix Draft Schedule: 2015-2017

True Historical Record of Salinity in the Estuary
CCWD: Historical Fresh Water & Salinity Conditions in the Western Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta & Suisun Bay


What about the health risks to the 1 million people who rely on drinking water from the Delta? Is the State Water Board going to make us a sacrifice region? Sign our petition.


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