Letter: Little Delta smelt is a big part of the water story
California's drought of 2014, as reported in the Miner recently, laments that state's driest year on record and the ordeal farmers and farm workers are experiencing. The strain on water supplies has forced many thousands of acres, amounting to nearly half of otherwise fertile, usable land, to go unplanted. The resulting unemployment affects farm and processing plant workers, truck drivers and farm equipment dealers. The losses in produce sales are staggering and the cost to consumers is ever increasing. Small towns throughout the Central Valley are experiencing unemployment rates over 30 percent and will undoubtedly soon see them reach 50 percent.
But the earlier AP article and the more recent April 20 article neglected to tell the whole story, the story of the Delta smelt, a guppy-sized, inedible fish, protected by the Endangered Species Act since 1994. As reported by Charles C.W. Cooke in National Review (Jan. 27), a federal lawsuit won by hard-line environmentalists in 2007 contended that the pumps that funnel Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta water to the Central Valley farmers were killing an unacceptable number of smelt (305 allowable killed per year), though estimates claim there are over 100,000 live smelt.
The federal Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) re-listed the smelt as endangered, but even while the FWS are taking population surveys, thousands of the fish are destroyed. In addition, state hatcheries upstream plant non-native striped bass that feed on the smelt. But in 2007, following the lawsuit judgment, those pumps were shut down by the federal government. So, hundreds of billions of gallons of water that could have been routed to Central Valley farms go out under the Golden Gate Bridge into the Pacific.