10/30/14: Broad Coalition Demonstrates Strong Support for State Water Board Action on Fresh Water Flows in San Joaquin River & Bay-Delta

Long-distance Relay Run Delivers Public Petition, Letter from Dozens of California Non-profits Seeking Rapid Action to Aid Ecosystems, Fish, and Jobs in Peril

SACRAMENTO, CA - October 30, 2014 Today a long-distance relay run delivered 2,100 petition signatures and a letter from 50 non-profits representing commercial fishing, anglers, fish and wildlife conservation, river recreation, and consumer protection advocates requesting rapid action from the State Water Resources Control Board to protect the San Joaquin River and San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary. Today’s run capped the first annual “Salmon Run for Rivers”, a 108-mile relay that has carried petition signatures from San Francisco to Sacramento in stages since last Saturday. Friends of the River, Fish Revolution, the SalmonAID Foundation, and The Bay Institute sponsored the relay run.

On average, less than one-third of the San Joaquin’s natural flow arrives in the Bay-Delta estuary during the winter and spring; in some years, up to 90% of the river is diverted upstream for use in irrigated agriculture and by cities like San Francisco. Later in the year, the majority of the river’s water is made up of polluted agricultural return flow that is heavily contaminated with fertilizers, pesticides, and salts, and by toxic trace elements which are removed from the soil by irrigating the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

 “Our rivers, our fish and wildlife, and the amazing San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary have been denied sufficient fresh water flows for too long,” said Eric Wessleman, Executive Director of Friends of the River, “The Central Valley’s fish and rivers can’t speak for themselves and they are clearly in a desperate state. Our relay runners, thousands who signed our petitions, and dozens of non-profit organizations from across our state are speaking for the rivers and the fish – if the State Board does not protect them, we’ll lose these public resources forever.”

The State Water Board is in the midst of revising its Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan, a requirement of both state and federal Clean Water Acts. An earlier draft of the first phase of the Water Quality Control Plan (WQCP) update, dealing with San Joaquin River flows and salinity standards in the southern Delta, was issued in 2012. Federal and state agency scientists as well as conservation organizations were roundly critical of that draft, saying it enshrined an unacceptable status quo. The revised draft has been delayed for almost a year while the State Water Board worked to improve its analyses of the costs and benefits associated with restoring freshwater flow to California’s second largest river.

Commenting on the letter to the State Water Board, cosigned by 50 non-profit organizations, that was delivered today, Jessie Raeder, President of the SalmonAID Foundation said: “These organizations hail from across California, cover a wide range of interests, and pursue different strategies for protecting our fish and rivers. But they all agree on this: too much water is being diverted from the San Joaquin River, its tributaries, and the Bay-Delta estuary. Crashing fish and wildlife populations tell us that this is not sustainable. The State Water Board has an obligation to protect our salmon and our rivers and we’re asking them to do that.”

The San Joaquin is widely regarded to be America’s most endangered river. This river and its tributaries once supported some of the largest Chinook salmon runs on the Pacific Coast. Even before the recent drought, the overuse and abuse of the San Joaquin River drove its salmon and steelhead populations to all-time lows; California’s Chinook salmon commercial and sport fisheries have declined precipitously as a result.

Run organizer Crystal Sanders, founder and President of Fish Revolution, sees the impact of declining local fisheries on the fishermen, fish purveyors, and restaurants she works with.  “Wild Chinook salmon were once a major food source for all the people who colonized the Pacific Coast. Even one generation ago, wild salmon from the Central Valley supported fishing communities and a healthy, locally sourced seafood cuisine throughout northern California and Oregon. We can have both nutritious, local wild salmon and agribusiness, but the State Water Board needs to re-establish a balance so that we stop sacrificing our sustainable fisheries to subsidize a monoculture of nut trees in the Central Valley.”

The San Joaquin River was once a major artery of life-giving fresh water to the Bay-Delta Estuary, the largest inland estuary on the Pacific Coast of North and South America. Without this fresh water input, the southern Bay-Delta ecosystem has collapsed, becoming home to an array of invasive species that are well suited to its now warm, slow moving, and polluted waters.

Relay runner Alison Weber-Stover, a staff scientist for The Bay Institute, believes that both the river and the estuary can be restored, if sufficient volumes of fresh water flow downstream. Weber-Stover said: “The science is very clear. The scientific community and the State Water Board itself have consistently found that our fish and ecosystems need more water from the mountains to reach the Delta and our Bay. The best scientific information indicates that these species can recover quickly with as little as 60% of the San Joaquin River basin’s flow – and about 75% from the Sacramento River basin – but we’re running out of time to reverse their journey to extinction.”

Friends of the River – Founded in 1972, Friends of the River is California's only statewide river conservation organization. FOR is nationally recognized as an authority on the adverse impacts of dams on rivers and ecosystems. www.friendsoftheriver.org
SalmonAID – The SalmonAID Foundation is a Pacific Coast-wide coalition of non-profit commercial fishing, angler, tribal, food system protection, and conservation organizations that organize public events to raise awareness of Pacific salmon species, their plight, and the need to restore their fresh water habitats. www.salmonaid.org
Fish Revolution – Fish Revolution is dedicated to improving the health of marine fish populations. The organization works to shift demand from harmful fishing practices to sustainable methods by collaborating and consulting with restaurants, fish distributors, consumers, and others in the seafood production. www.fishrevolution.org
The Bay Institute – The Bay Institute is the leader in protecting, restoring and inspiring conservation of San Francisco Bay and its watershed — from the Sierra to the sea. For over 30 years, The Bay Institute has developed and led scientific research, education, and advocacy programs to preserve California's most important natural resource. www.thebayinstitute.org
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Media Contacts:
Eric Wessleman, Executive Director Friends of the River, 510.775.3797, Eric@FriendsoftheRiver.org  

Crystal Sanders, Founder/President Fish Revolution!, 361.548.9658, Crystal@FishRevoution.org

Jessie Raeder, President SalmonAID Foundation, 323.823.5377, Jessie@SalmonAID.org

Gary Bobker, Rivers and Delta Program Director, The Bay Institute, 415.272.6616, Bobker@Bay.org