Schwarzenegger Vetoes Fish Rescue Plans Bill, Campaigns For Water Policies That Would Destroy Delta
By Dan Bacher
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, hailed as the Green Governor in his news conferences and photo opportunities touting green jobs in recent weeks, showed his true anti-environmental credentials yesterday when he vetoed the Fish Rescue Plans Bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Lois Wolk.
AB 1896, spurred by the fish kill at Prospect Island last fall, would require the Department of Fish and Game to develop a set of protocols to evaluate the need for fish rescue and relocation plans within the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
“While I am disappointed that AB 1806 was not signed, I want to express my thanks to the fishing community for their strong support in this effort,” said Assemblywoman Wolk, Chair of the Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee. “The fishing community took up the challenge to help restore the states fisheries and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and has proven a force to be reckoned with. When thousands of striped bass and other sport fish dying on Prospect Island last year, it was fishermen who mounted the rescue operation that saved thousands of fish--and their advocacy helped send AB 1806 to the Governor’s desk.”
“Our fisheries continue to face considerable challenges. But the Administration asserts that this state can voluntarily implement fish rescue plans when fish are threatened. It is up to all of us, including the fishing community, to see that pledge is kept. At the end of the day, this legislation succeeded in making a difference in how California Department of Fish and Game responds to situations like the one on Prospect Island," she stated.
The original bill would have provided for full mitigation for all of the damages caused to Delta fisheries by the state and federal water projects, but this provision was removed to get the get the bill through the Senate on a second vote.
Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill, claiming it is unnecessary and duplicates authority already conferred to the Department by existing laws and regulations for mitigation for fish and wildlife impacts and coordination between federal, state and local agencies. Additionally, the burdensome process that this bill would create could potentially inhibit restoration activities initiated in association with flood control projects.
However, in contrast to what Schwarzenegger contends, the bill was absolutely necessary to prevent future fish kills from happening in the future. In November 2007, tens of thousands of striped bass, Sacramento splittail, Sacramento blackfish, threadfin shad, bluegill, catfish, black bass and other species perished when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation drained Prospect Island in the California Delta while doing a levee repair.
Although over a hundred volunteers were ready to a do a fish rescue, thanks to rapid organizing by Bob McDaris and other sportsmen, it took weeks for federal and state authorities to get the necessary permits to rescue the fish. Meanwhile, thousands more fish died. If this bill had in place, the massive fish kill would never have taken place or at least would have been alleviated.
The bill would require the department to expedite the approval of any permit required from the department for Implementation of fish rescue efforts on public lands. During the development of the protocols, the bill also required the Department of Fish and Game to consult with interested local, state, and federal stakeholders, including landowners and recreational fishing groups. During this collaboration, the department was required to solicit the establishment of networks of volunteers with suitable training and background willing to assist during an incident for which the department determines that fish rescue or relocation is appropriate.
On the same day that the Schwarzenegger further solidified his credentials as the Fish Terminator by vetoing AB 1806, he used his signing of SBx2 1, sponsored by Senator Pro Tempore Don Perata (D-San Francisco), as a platform to campaign for the $9.3 billion "compromise" water bond developed by him and Senator Diane Feinstein.
A broad coalition of fishing groups, environmentalists, farmers and Indian Tribes opposes the water bond because it proposes "increased water storage," including the Sites Reservoir on the west side of the Sacramento Valley and Temperance Flat Reservoir on the San Joaquin River and "improved water conveyance" - the controversial peripheral canal.
Perata's bill, supported by many fishing groups, conservationists and farmers, appropriates $842 million in funding from two initiatives passed by voters in 2006 Proposition 84 and Proposition 1E. Although Schwarzenegger claimed that these funds will help water agencies address the current statewide drought and provide a “first step" toward investing in water supply reliability, he said "a much more comprehensive plan is needed in order to update California’s water system, which urgently needs increased storage, improved conveyance, a restored and better protected Delta ecosystem and greater water conservation."
This funding is a band-aid measure that will help water agencies improve their conservation efforts in the face of the state’s current drought, but will not solve our long-term water supply problems, which require a more comprehensive solution to ensure that California has the water it needs to keep our environment and economy healthy, Schwarzenegger said. I encourage each and every Californian to look at ways to reduce their water usage whenever possible, and this package of legislation will further aid in those conservation efforts which are so critical to California’s water supply right now.
In July, he and Senator Feinstein tried to strong arm their "compromise water bond through the legislature. Fortunately, massive opposition to the legislation by a broad grassroots coalition prevented Schwarzenegger from getting the bond on the November ballot, but political insiders expect Schwarzenegger and Feinstein to try to get the bond on the June 2009 ballot.
If the Schwarzenegger/Feinstein water bond passes, it would send the California Deltas imperiled fishery over the precipice. The peripheral canal would create the infrastructure to divert even more water from the Delta when less water exports, not increased water diversions, are needed to restore fisheries.
Schwarzenegger’s veto of AB 1806 and his campaign for the peripheral canal and more dams taken place at a time when California fisheries are in their worst-ever crisis. Recreational and commercial salmon fishing in ocean waters off California and Oregon is closed for the first time this year, due to the collapse of the Central Valley chinook fall salmon population.
Although the Bush and Schwarzenegger administrations blame ocean conditions for the salmon fishery failure, fishermen and conservationists point to increasing water exports from the California Delta and declining water quality as the key factors behind the collapse. The salmon collapse parallels the decline of four pelagic (open water) species delta smelt, longfin smelt, threadfin shad in recent years. A team of state and federal scientists believes that increasing exports in recent years, followed by toxics and invasive species, are the key factors in the decline.
The peripheral canal and more dams will only exacerbate the precipitous decline of chinook salmon, steelhead, delta smelt, longfin smelt, striped bass, threadfin shad and other species. Everybody concerned about the future of Central Valley fisheries and the Bay-Delta Estuary ecosystem must oppose Schwarzenegger and Feinstein’s bailout for water contractors.
Dan Bacher is an editor of The Fish Sniffer , described as "The #1 Newspaper in the World Dedicated Entirely to Fishermen".