Governor Newsom’s “Salmon Strategy” will Accelerate Decline of Central Valley Salmon Runs

Governor Newsom’s “Salmon Strategy” will Accelerate Decline of Central Valley Salmon Runs

San Francisco Baykeeper Issues Statement

Governor Newsom today announced a plan to support California’s embattled salmon fishery, which he dubbed “California’s Salmon Strategy for a Hotter, Drier Future.” Rather than propose any bold new actions, the plan repackages existing projects and hard-won victories by Native American Tribes, fishing organizations, and environmental non-profits, including dam removals on the Klamath and Eel rivers. 

Newsom’s package does nothing to reverse the steep declines in Central Valley salmon populations, including the runs that have supported the state’s salmon fisheries for decades. Last summer, California’s salmon fishing season was closed completely for only the third time in the state’s history, because Central Valley spawning populations collapsed after years of bad decisions by state and federal water managers.

Salmon need adequate cold river flows to survive, yet Governor Newsom’s new strategy does not plan for the restoration of flows downstream of Central Valley dams. His administration’s agencies have waived environmental requirements for river flow for three consecutive years, and they have allowed dam operators to regularly exceed temperature standards intended to protect these remarkable creatures. Newsom has actively undermined development of better water quality policies, while championing new dams and water diversions, including a Delta tunnel. 

In a typical year, California diverts half of the water flowing through Central Valley rivers to serve industrial agriculture and big cities. Because of these excessive water diversions, the list of fish native to San Francisco Bay and its watershed that are verging on extinction continues to grow.

Rather than follow the scientific record that documents the need to improve river flow and temperature conditions in Central Valley rivers, Newsom continues to push forward voluntary agreements negotiated in secret with the state’s major agricultural and urban water agencies. These agreements would trade necessary river flows for millions of dollars of “habitat” restoration projects, a new bureaucracy, and more fish monitoring. Similar agreements have failed in decades past because they lacked adequate protections for salmon’s real habitat: flowing rivers. 

Earlier this month as part of a public process, SF Baykeeper and allied organizations issued a legal and scientific critique of these voluntary schemes. Among other problems, the agreements rely on endangered species rules from the Trump administration as their baseline, even though California’s attorney general successfully challenged those rules in court.    

In response, Baykeeper science director Jon Rosenfield issued the following statement:

“The governor’s sudden interest in restoring the state’s salmon populations belies his record of neglect. At every turn, this administration has slashed existing environmental protections for the Central Valley’s four Chinook salmon runs and opposed long-overdue new safeguards. 

“Governor Newsom is marketing his new ‘strategy,’ which is actually a collection of existing projects, while simultaneously promoting the Delta tunnel and Sites Dam projects—both of which will divert even more water from San Francisco Bay, its tributaries, and their salmon. He is also proposing to enshrine the Trump administration’s invalid endangered species policies in his voluntary sweetheart deals with powerful water districts. 

“The best that can be said about the governor’s ‘strategy’ is that it won’t get in the way of some of the good projects that are already underway. The decommissioning of dams on the Klamath and Eel rivers is profound, and kudos to the Tribal communities and their allies who fought for decades to make that happen. 

“Today’s announcement promises to dress up the Newsom administration’s record of  devastating the Central Valley’s unique salmon runs with millions of dollars spent on dubious, so-called ‘habitat’ projects and a new management bureaucracy. The strategy of restoring marsh and floodplain “habitat,” rather than providing adequate river flows, has been tried before—for decades—and it has failed. Central Valley salmon need more cold water to flow downhill to San Francisco Bay. The governor’s so-called ‘salmon strategy’ does not provide this necessary relief.”