Baykeeper statement: State Releases Environmental Report for Delta Tunnel

New Water Diversion Would Doom Salmon, Sturgeon, Steelhead, Smelt

The California Department of Water Resources today released the final environmental impact report for its proposed Delta Conveyance project. The Delta Conveyance is a tunnel that would divert water from the Sacramento River beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, denying critical freshwater flows to the Delta and San Francisco Bay.

In January, Baykeeper and allied fishing and conservation organizations filed extensive comments documenting major flaws with the latest iteration of the Delta tunnel. The state’s analysis and conclusions regarding impacts to native fish and Delta water quality failed to use the best available science, and misled the public about the likely harms arising from increased water diversions. The Final EIR failed to address those concerns.

State and federal agencies allow too much fresh water to be diverted from the Bay’s Central Valley tributaries to supply industrial agriculture and large cities. As a result, populations of native fish—including Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, longfin smelt, Delta smelt, green sturgeon, and white sturgeon—have declined dramatically throughout the Bay and its watershed. The Delta tunnel would exacerbate  these declines. The unsustainable diversion of water jeopardizes economically and culturally important fisheries, as well as imperiled species. For example,California’s Chinook salmon fishery was closed in 2023, and will likely remain closed in 2024.

Baykeeper science director Jon Rosenfield, Ph.D. responded with the following statement:

“Governor Newsom’s multi-billion dollar Delta tunnel will divert excessive amounts of water from the Bay, and make matters worse for the fish and communities that depend on this ecosystem. The science clearly demonstrates that fish need increased river flows to survive, but state agencies are ignoring it.

California diverts more than half of the water flowing through Central Valley rivers to serve industrial agriculture and big cities. Because of excessive water diversions, the list of fish native to San Francisco Bay and its watershed that are verging on extinction continues to grow, and our fisheries are increasingly shut down.

“California can protect San Francisco Bay and its watershed, while still providing enough water for agriculture and cities to thrive. Instead, Newsom is continuing his campaign to divert yet more water, needlessly sacrificing California’s native fish, valuable fisheries, water quality, and the communities that depend on them.

“Chinook salmon, steelhead, longfin smelt and other fish that have thrived here for millennia cannot survive the Newsom administration’s assault on San Francisco Bay and its watershed. White Sturgeon, the Bay’s ultimate survivors, might not survive into the next generation because of neglect from state agencies that are supposed to protect our Bay and its fishes.”