ESA “Biological Opinion” for SF Bay-Delta Restore the Delta Responds

For Immediate Release: October 22, 2019

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, 209-479-2053,
Tim Stroshane, 510-847-7556,

Washington, D.C./Stockton, CA – Today, the Trump Administration released a set of new Endangered Species Act permits (biological opinions) that will significantly weaken existing federal protections for salmon and other endangered species in California’s Bay-Delta watershed. These biological opinions determine the long-term operation of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project and set the allowed levels for water exports to Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley.

Tim Stroshane, policy analyst for Restore the Delta said:

“While there’s still much to review in these opinions, we see immediately that the Trump Administration intends to follow through on its promise to maximize exports from the Delta to San Joaquin valley agribusiness and southern California. These opinions however have the smell of manipulated science, an Orwellian finding that ‘fish don’t need water.’”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta said:

“If the Trump plan is implemented, Delta water quality will degrade and residents will use its waters for fishing and recreation, less. Stockton’s costs for treating its drinking water will rise as will residents’ water rates, and the public health will be impacted due to increased harmful algal blooms. We are calling on the Newsom Administration to help fight these faux-science based opinions and to stop the Trump plan to increase water deliveries to big water districts. These rollbacks cannot become part of the Newsom Administration’s ‘voluntary agreement’ process for the Delta.” 

While we will be conducting an in-depth reading of the new biological opinions in the days ahead, we can see that they fail to protect Delta communities and fisheries because:

• They allow for increased exports in summer and autumn creating conditions for the proliferation of harmful algal blooms (HABS) which are a public health threat
• ESA protections are tied to water quality in the Delta; (Bay-Delta flow standards have not been permanently set by the State Water Resources Control Board)
• They are not calendar based
• They do not protect salmon and smelt unless fish show up at the pumps; they are reactive not protective of species in serious decline
• They allow for hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of additional water exports from the Bay-Delta and play games with carry-over storage 


For decades, the SF Bay-Delta has been in a state of permanent drought. The amount of water flowing through the estuary is not enough to keep the ecosystem healthy. The 2019 “State of the Estuary” was released this week by the San Francisco Estuary Partnership highlights this ongoing problem. 

Caitlin Sweeney the executive director of the Estuary Partnership told the Marin Independent-Journal, “I think where we are not seeing the same kinds of positive results that are the areas such as freshwater flowing into the estuary; the idea that we need a certain amount of freshwater coming from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers for example flowing into our estuary in order for the estuary to survive and all of the animals that depend on it.” 

Political Science or Biology?

For two years, the Trump Administration has been clear about their goal of “maximizing water deliveries” to agribusinesses and other water districts served by the federal Central Valley Project and State Water Project. The process has been led by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist and counsel for the Westlands Water District, the largest water district in the Central Valley.

Today’s BiOps replace 2008 fish and 2009 orcas biological opinions that were to be in effect for 20 years.The new BiOps are the result of a reconsultation process triggered in 2016 by CA Department of Water Resources and the US Bureau of Reclamation. 

To meet the president’s timeline, scientists at NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had to work at an unprecedented pace, cutting back the independent scientific review, and eliminating the public process.

On July 1, 2019, a group of career scientists with the National Marine Fisheries Service warned that the proposed project would jeopardize endangered salmon and violate the Endangered Species Act. The Trump Administration responded by removing those scientists and replacing them and a news staff began rewriting their biological opinion to greenlight the Trump Administration’s proposal.

They wrote that the plan posed risks to the threatened fish. They also said they did not have enough information to provide a thorough scientific review and that the process was being rushed by the Trump Administration to downplay the environmental impacts.

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