Water Mismanagement

A Man-Made Drought

Most of the water from Sierra snowmelt that should flow westward toward the Pacific Ocean never reaches San Francisco Bay. That’s because about half of Central Valley river flows are diverted for use by farms and cities.

San Francisco Bay desperately needs a plan for sustainable water use that protects our fish, wildlife, water quality, and the communities that depend on the watershed. Instead, Governor Newsom—in a long history of water mismanagement at the state level—is giving away water the Bay needs, subsidizing industrial agribusinesses at every turn.

In dry years, his agencies have slashed environmental safeguards in order to deliver more water to cattle and water-intensive crops like almonds and rice. In wet years, the Newsom administration cuts environmental protections again, handing out water that our Bay and its rivers need to recover from drought.

The results: California’s salmon fishery is collapsing. Native American Tribes will continue to suffer from the destruction of an important food source, as well as their fishing culture. Six of the Bay’s native fish species are listed as endangered, and more may join that list soon.

Meanwhile, communities in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta grapple with toxic algae blooms, caused by inadequate river flows, every summer.

Most of the fresh water that should reach the Bay and Pacific Ocean is diverted for use by agriculture, like these flooded rice fields, and cities. (Photo: Baykeeper)

The Bay-Delta Plan

Since 2009, the State Water Resources Control Board has attempted to develop a science-based plan that would require increased river flows into the Bay. The new protections would require both agribusiness and cities to use water sustainably.

But Governor Newsom has actively blocked this plan. 

Native fishes like salmon, steelhead, and smelt need cold, flowing rivers to survive. And, many other creatures need fish to survive. As fisheries crumble, a domino effect occurs throughout the food web, starving everything from orca whales to osprey.

For years, Governor Newsom has brokered deals with industrial agriculture and cities like San Francisco over how much to leave behind voluntarily for the environment. Environmental organizations, Delta communities, fishing representatives, and Tribes have been excluded from those talks. So, it’s no surprise that the latest proposals don’t do nearly enough to protect our rivers, our fish, or our communities.

San Francisco Bay needs a plan to protect the quantity and quality of water it receives from its watershed—and that plan must be based on science, not the demands of powerful water districts.

San Francisco Bay needs a plan to protect the quantity and quality of water it receives from its watershed—and that plan must be based on science, not the demands of powerful water districts.


The good news is that we can live within our water budget without destroying the Bay-Delta ecosystem. Investing in water recycling, and encouraging conservation are just a few possible solutions. Fixing leaky water supply pipes alone would increase the state’s urban water supply by 10%, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

But state and local officials have repeatedly ignored these obvious solutions in favor of expensive projects like the Delta Tunnel and the Sites Dams—both of which would do more harm than good.  

That’s why Baykeeper is standing up for the Bay’s watershed:

  • For the last decade, we’ve been fighting infrastructure projects that would lead to more diversions like the Delta Tunnel and Sites Dams project.
  • Advocating and litigating to protect imperiled species like the longfin smelt and the white sturgeon before they disappear for good.
  • And, we’re litigating to force the state to stop delaying publication and implementation of a science-backed plan to leave more cold water in the Bay’s tributary rivers.
Longfin smelt
Baykeeper is working to protect native species like the longfin smelt (above) and white sturgeon before they disappear for good. Illustration by Fiorella Ikeue in collaboration with Baykeeper.

Take Action

Take Action to Protect the Bay’s White Sturgeon

California’s white sturgeon is the continent’s largest and oldest freshwater fish, having swum in Pacific Coast rivers and streams for 46 million years. But now, this ancient fish is facing multiple existential threats. Excessive water diversions from Central Valley rivers, harmful algae blooms, and overfishing are pushing white sturgeon to the brink.

Meanwhile, California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife and the agencies responsible for maintaining Bay-Delta water quality, are making decisions that further harm the white sturgeon.

So Baykeeper and our coalition partners are working to ensure that California white sturgeon receive the protections they need to survive.

Act now! Sign our letter to urge the CA Fish & Game Commission to list California’s white sturgeon as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act—and ensure this iconic Bay fish is protected in the years to come