Executive Summary for August 12th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key developments in the California drought, including toxic algae blooms. We also look at a state-ordered audit for the Delta tunnels plan, and a plea to save delta smelt.

Published on Aug. 12, 2016 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

A Plea to Save Fish

In a letter submitted this week, a group of environmental organizations has asked the State Water Resources Control Board to adopt emergency regulations to protect critically endangered delta smelt.

The groups contend in their letter that water diversions are “depriving the San Francisco Bay Estuary of freshwater outflow from the Delta that is essential for the delta smelt’s continued existence.”

“It’s shocking enough to realize that what was once the most common resident fish of the San Francisco Bay Estuary is now the rarest, because of decades of mismanagement that the drought has only made worse,” said Gary Bobker, Rivers and Delta program director at The Bay Institute. “It’s unthinkable to contemplate that the delta smelt may go extinct this year because state and federal officials continue to fail to act on the science that shows that providing a small portion of the flow that once sustained this species – and many others now in decline – could help prevent that from happening.”

Jason Peltier of the San Luis-Delta Mendota Water Authority shot back at the environmental groups, saying they were calling for “more of the same” in advocating for increased water flows, which has been a failing strategy.

“Despite all of the sacrifice, billions of dollars spent, and millions of acre-feet of water dedicated to delta smelt, their population decline continues unabated,” said Peltier.

State Audit Coming for Tunnels Plan

The Brown Administration’s $16 billion plan to build twin tunnels under the Delta has another hurdle, as it will now face a state audit after a decision by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee.

The project is to be funded by water agencies that benefit from the tunnels, but critics of the plan (many hailing from the Delta), are worried that public funds will be used, especially if costs rise as they often do with large infrastructure projects.

As the AP reported, a federal audit is already looking into $248 million spent on project before its approval.

Algae Threats Growing

A health scare is erupting as toxic algae blooms are cropping up across the state, with the latest being confirmed in Discovery Bay in Contra Costa County, about 60 miles from San Francisco.

As Water Deeply reported earlier this week, much of the algae being found is known as Microcystis aeruginosa and it has killed dogs and other animals. It also poses a danger to humans, causing skin and eye irritation, gastrointestinal issues and contains cancer-causing toxins.

Peggy Lehman, a staff environmental scientist at the California Department of Water Resources, said that most Microcystis is in the San Joaquin River and has migrated from there to other parts of the Delta. Pyramid Lake and Lake Elsinore near Los Angeles and the Pit River Arm of Shasta Lake in Northern California have also experienced toxic algae blooms recently as well. The problem is not unique to California and is becoming a global issue.

Drought, climate change and pollution are likely drivers of the algae blooms.

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