Baykeeper Update

No Water, No Fish: The Fight for Fresh Water Flows

Healthy levels of fresh water are vital for San Francisco Bay and the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta. Without sufficient flows through these waterways, toxic algae spread, fish die, and pollutants accumulate. Lack of healthy flows are already resulting in record low numbers of native fish like salmon. Species that depend on fish for food, like orcas, are also struggling.    

Last Wednesday, Baykeeper attorney Ben Eichenberg stood before California water regulators and stated the threat plainly: “Without more water, the current ecological collapse we are witnessing in the Delta will only accelerate.”

Despite this risk, San Francisco’s water utility (SFPUC) is refusing to reduce its share of the Sierra snowmelt that would naturally flow into Bay-Delta waters. The SFPUC has joined a coalition of Central Valley farmers, backed by the Trump Administration, to attack a plan for decreased diversions and increased water flows in the Bay-Delta.

The SFPUC has for decades ignored the need to reduce water consumption, diversify its sources of drinking water, and prepare for climate change. They have refused input from environmental organizations like Baykeeper and our partners, and are now promoting misinformation and biased research to support their position.

Surprisingly, Mayor London Breed sided with SFPUC, vetoing a resolution unanimously passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to support healthier flows. This move doesn’t represent the interests of a majority of San Francisco residents who want to conserve water and protect the environment.

Due in part to the actions of Mayor Breed and SFPUC, state regulators last week postponed a critical vote on the plan for increased flows. “We’re frustrated that they didn’t move forward with a decision—we’ve been advocating for 20 years for a roadmap to recovery for the Bay and Delta,” Ben said. 

Instead of draining rivers dry, Baykeeper supports efficiency and innovation to expand water supplies. Fixing leaking pipes, investing in water recycling, adopting more efficient irrigation techniques, and encouraging conservation are just a few possible solutions. SFPUC is lagging far behind other major water suppliers and can do much better.  

The Bay-Delta plan for increased flows will be considered again. And Baykeeper will be there, data in hand, to make the case for healthy water, healthy wildlife, and sustainable water use.   

Aerial photo of the Delta, above, by Daniel Parks, Flickr/CC