“An entire ecosystem is unraveling bit by bit before our eyes.”
- Jimmy Tobias, The Extinction Crisis Devastating San Francisco Bay
The Bay is in the throes of a man-made crisis that’s mostly invisible. Six Bay fish species are now officially listed as endangered and many others are on the brink. If action isn’t taken soon, the Bay risks becoming a dead zone for the fish and wildlife that have lived here for millennia.
In a new article from The Nation, Baykeeper Director Sejal Choksi-Chugh and Senior Scientist Jon Rosenfield describe the troubling state of the Bay.
The cause of the crisis is clear, and so is the solution. Fresh water that once flowed from rivers in the Sierra Nevada to the Delta and Bay has been diverted at unsustainable levels, mostly for Big Ag. Some rivers lose up to 90% of their flow for human use—and about 80% of that goes to industrial agriculture.
But fish, it turns out, need water to survive. And many other creatures need fish to survive. As fisheries crumble, it sets off a domino effect throughout the food web, starving everything from orcas to ospreys.
People are also affected. California’s fleet of small fishing boats, which depends on production of Chinook Salmon in the Bay’s watershed, is flailing, and indigenous people and other subsistence fishing communities are being deprived both of an important food source and their cultural heritage.
For years, Governor Newsom and many other politicians have tried to negotiate a compromise with Big Ag. But the latest draft agreement died recently—leaving room for a better approach. It’s crucial that Newsom use this opportunity to protect San Francisco Bay with a plan that’s based on science rather than the demands of powerful water districts.
The good news is that there’s already a plan to stop the looming extinction crisis. The State Water Board’s Bay-Delta Plan would set guidelines to prevent the ecosystem from spiraling into collapse.
But California’s Big Ag industry is adamantly opposed to anything that would make water-heavy export crops like cotton and almonds less profitable. The Water Board’s Plan has been repeatedly postponed due to pressure from lobbyists.
In the past few years, the Trump Administration has supported Big Ag’s efforts to avoid sustainable water use. Even San Francisco’s water district has cynically sided with Trump and Big Ag against the Water Board’s Plan, incorrectly claiming that it will affect drinking water availability during drought. But the Plan would not have any of these dire consequences; it would simply force cities and agricultural operators to use water more efficiently.
Governor Newsom must insist the Water Board move forward with the Bay-Delta Plan and set freshwater guidelines in our thirsty rivers once and for all.
Newsom has shown great foresight by acting swiftly and decisively in the face of COVID-19. As a result, California has avoided the terrible death toll taking place in other parts of the world and country.
Help us convince Newsom to apply his leadership to the ecological crisis unfolding in the Bay and Delta. The State Water Board can avert a crisis in San Francisco Bay—in fact, it is legally required to do so. But if the Governor continues to pursue voluntary half-measures, rather than strong protections, soon it will be too late.
Support Baykeeper’s advocacy by signing the letter below to ask Governor Newsom to support the Bay-Delta Plan for the future of the Delta, the Bay, and everyone who depends on these irreplaceable natural treasures.