Saturday, January 30, 2010

Feinstein: Wasted Time, Wasted Money?

The SacBee’s 1 23 10 editorial on “Feinstein’s $1.5 Million Review” concludes with “if the academy’s review only reaffirms the current science, then Feinstein will need to be held accountable.” She is a politician and must support her donors, but to do support one donor at the expenses of a species so vital to the economy of California and the West Coast and such a miracle of the animal kingdom as the two runs of salmon and steelhead, and at the expense of her other supporters, is really unforgivable and injudicious politically. Her attempt to delay a decision already confirmed by time and science is really indefensible and appears to be nothing more than “an effort to shore up her support among farmers in the San Joaquin Valley, an area in which farmers are already on government welfare and an area in which needless crops are grown for profit in toxic, alkaline lands mainly in the western San Joaquin Valley at the expense of fishes and the environment as the catastrophic Kesterson Reservoir toxic mess still unaddressed is the result. No amount of political will can return the salmon and steelhead once they are extinct … extinction is forever and extinction caused by a political quid pro quo to one donor, Stewart Resnick, is unconscionable.
The cost of the National Academy of Science five day conference at UCDavis, which Feinstein financed, would do much for fishes if used differently. The $1.5 million would do much for a specific stream, the Auburn Ravine, the stream Save Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead (SARSAS, a non-profit whose mission is to return salmon and steelhead to the entire lengthe of the Auburn Ravine, has worked diligently on for the last year and a half to make it a salmon/steelhead spawning tributary of the Sacramento River. The Auburn Ravine originates in Auburn, thirty five mile east of Sacramento on Hwy 80. SARSAS, working with NOAA, has made the Auburn Ravine navigable for fishes to the city of Lincoln, about an 18 mile reach. Anadromous fishes may now spawn in the Auburn Ravine, historically a rich anadromous spawning stream before the thirteen diversions dams were built to divert water to farms. These flashboard dams are now in compliance for upstream fish passage, removed October 15 and installed again in April 15, to allow fish to spawn; the problem is SARSAS has not been able to fund the screening of the thirteen diversions canals on the Auburn Ravine so even though the anadromous fishes may reach spawning beds, spawn and become smolt, when they return to the Pacific to mature for three to five years, most, if not all, will be entrained in rice fields and pastures and die because SARSAS has been unable to raise the $1.5 -3 million necessary to screen these diversions.
$1.5 million definitely would have saved countless anadromous fishes if spent for fish screens on the Auburn Ravine, which is one of the richest, if not the richest fishery in Northern California with the 2004-5 FG Fish Count Survey documenting 7,000 salmonids per mile.
Auburn Ravine is one of at least 738 tributaries to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Rivers. If SARSAS can return the Auburn Ravine to spawning viability, then countless other tributaries will have a model to follow. The SARSAS Plan ( outlines this plan in detail. Imagine if the Auburn Ravine had one thousand females spawn this year, each laying 8,000 eggs. If only three percent of the 80,000 fishes return after maturing in the Pacific, one stream, the Auburn Ravine, would be enriched by 2,400 fish reproducing and sending smolt to the Pacific. Numbers increase geometrically over time. If over the next few years, only ten other streams were opened for spawning, then immediately 24,000 females would be laying eggs and sending thousands of smolt to the Pacific to mature and this small change would go a long way toward returning anadromous fishes to help reopen the $3 billion commercial fishing industry and the season to sports fishermen. Farmers wins; fish supporters win.
Salmon and steelhead become strays if their native spawning stream is blocked so strays spawn any place available. Like the mantra in Field of Dreams, “Build it, they will come”: for fishes it is referring to the stream, “Open it, they will come and spawn?”
So Feinsteins’s $1.5 million could have been spent to create harmony between farmers and environmentalists by providing fish screens so farmers would get their water uninterruptedly and environmentalists would help anadromous fishes. If Feinstein could have created a win-win for herself and her constituents. Her current decision is dubious at best.
It is not too late for Feinstein to do good for all. She can stop this waste of money after five days and create a win/win options by funding fish screens on the Auburn Ravine. Feinstein still needs to be held accountable to her constiuents and to salmon and steelhead, whose only voice is the people.

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