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Water allocation decree signals scorched earth fish strategy

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POSTED April 7, 2017 1:17 a.m.

Our faucets are at the mercy of bureaucrats beholden to a New California Order where fish trump people.
If you don’t believe that consider this: The Stanislaus River watershed is experiencing its biggest precipitation weather year since 1908 with the snowpack — as of April 1 —expected to yield 2.5 million acre feet of water when all is said and done. Statewide the snowpack is trending well above normal. The Bureau of Reclamation and State Department of Water Resources are struggling to clear space in reservoirs for the massive spring runoff.
It is against that background that the Bureau last month decided that farmers with federal contracts south of the Delta will only receive 65 percent of their water needs in the upcoming growing season.
It is abundantly clear what is going on. It could rain for 40 days and 40 nights with the water lapping at the 14,505-foot summit of Mt. Whitney and the government still would not give farmers 100 percent of their water allocation.
It’s because even with an above average water year they’ve done the math. If you take all of the bureaucratic edicts to kick up water flows for fish and implement them in their entirety there will not be enough water to go around.
Let’s be abundantly clear. No one in their right mind should be against any effort to sustain and expand native fish populations. And as someone who defines nirvana as hiking along babbling brooks trickling over granite above 10,000 feet in the Sierra, I view any water policy that builds upon the concrete freak show that is the Los Angeles River or dries out stretches of rivers for miles such as happened for years along the San Joaquin as an act against civilization.
But this is 2017, not 1852. There are 39.5 million Californians, and not 260,949. California — primarily in the San Joaquin Valley — produces more than 11 percent of this nation’s food including a third of the vegetables and thirds of the fruits and nuts. There were 23.5 million mouths in this country to feed in 1850 with 64 percent of all Americans living and toiling on farms. Today there are 325.8 million Americans that eat food with only 2 percent of them on the farm. In 1850 non-native fish in the Delta were non-existent. Today non-native bass that are the fish version of vacuum cleaners devour native steelhead and salmon with as much restraint as a Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog eating contest participant. This is especially true during higher water flows.
It is against that backdrop that the New California Order powered by bureaucrats is seeking to recreate 1852 when it comes to native fish.
You will get no argument that fish have been overfished just like Tule elk were overhunted. Because of that fish need special consideration. That said, there was never a realistic chance of the New World when the Pilgrims arrived ever being able to sustain a population of 325.8 million by only living off the land as well as helping feed much of the world.
Fish that aren’t in California’s remaining wild rivers can’t be expected to have a life cycle that replicates 1852 to a tee given there are 39.3 million more people and dams that are needed to support them.
Rare is the fish in California that has a life cycle as nature intended. Mother Nature does not have massive fish hatcheries. The Department of Fish and Game has done the heavy lifting for decades.
There is little doubt that if you tore down every dam in California, kicked out 39.3 million people, and killed off every bass and other non-native fish that salmon would be able to survive just fine.
It would mean their numbers would die off substantially during droughts. The mighty rivers that sustain them would be mere trickles when September rolls around even in normal water years without the help of dams.
The New California Order eschews inconvenient scientific data when it doesn’t support their narrative of best practices for fish and humans — or fish alone for that matter — in the reality that is 2017.
They willingly ignore 10 years of extensive scientific research on the Stanislaus River regarding salmon, water flows, and predators that point to best practices that should be implemented because it doesn’t match with their assumptions.
The Bureau’s decision to deliver only 65 percent of agriculture’s water allocation this year despite the heavens having opened up is a warning shot that the 100 Year War — better known as the California Water War — is entering a scorched earth phase.
The bureaucracy has signaled its clear intent to go to the mat to wrangle every last drop of water for fish even if research has concluded after a certain point the returns diminish drastically as more and more water is used in the name of fish flows.
Even with ideal flows salmon struggle.
How can this be? The answer is quite obvious. It’s a four letter word that no one wants to utter — bass.
That doesn’t mean the bass should be driven from the Delta as if they were snakes in Ireland. What needs to be done is taking a holistic view of the 2017 ecological system for both fish — native and non-native — and man including what it takes to feed the human race.

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