Friday, May 15, 2009

DWR to showcase “bubble barrier” to ‘protect’ San Joaquin salmon

From Dan Bacher:

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) will on Friday, May 15 unveil a non-physical “bubble curtain” barrier to protect migrating Chinook salmon on the San Joaquin River in the South Delta as the agency continues to preside over the collapse of Central Valley salmon, delta smelt and other fish populations.

DWR is inviting credentialed media to view the barrier project and interview participants from the agencies. DWR is piloting the “bubble curtain” barrier project that combines acoustics and a strobe-lit sheet of bubbles to create an underwater wall of light and sound at frequencies that repel juvenile Chinook salmon, according to a news release from DWR.

“Preliminary results show that an experimental, non-physical fish barrier is working to help keep young Chinook salmon and steelhead in a more direct path to the ocean and away from agricultural diversion and the state and federal pumping plants,” DWR stated. “Results from three of seven planned releases of hatchery juvenile Chinook salmon implanted with acoustic tags indicate that the barrier has increased the number of fish staying in the San Joaquin River to continue their out-migration to San Francisco Bay and the ocean. Past studies have shown that salmon kept in the main stem of the San Joaquin River have better survival than those that move into the central Delta through Old River.”

The four remaining releases are scheduled through late May, DWR stated. Receivers are stationed along the salmon out-migration path at sites along the San Joaquin River and Old River near the barrier. DWR leased the non-physical barrier equipment from EIMCO Water Technologies, LLC for the experimental project.

From 11 a.m. until noon Jerry Johns, DWR Deputy Director, Mark Holderman, DWR Project Manager, Dr. Mark Bowen, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation biologist, and Trent Gathright and Guy Beauchesne, EIMCO Water Technologies, LLC, will conduct the media event at the divergence of Old River at the San Joaquin River near Lathrop.

“The bubble-curtain is being tested for use instead of a rock barrier that has been installed each spring in previous years to help keep juvenile salmon from straying into Old River as they out-migrate from the San Joaquin River through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta,” said DWR. “The installation of a fish barrier at the head of Old River, at the divergence from the San Joaquin River, has been a part of the Vernalis Adaptive Management Plan (VAMP), a federal and State multi-agency experimental program initiated in 2000 to protect migrating Chinook salmon.”

The agency said the rock barrier was not installed this year “because of the recent Biological Opinion on Delta Smelt issued in December 2008. Instead, VAMP participants decided to test a non-physical barrier — the strobe-lit, sound-generating bubble curtain — in an effort to investigate an alternative to the rock barrier that can have adverse hydrodynamic impacts on Delta smelt.”

I’m for anything that minimizes harm to Central Valley salmon populations. However, “techno-fixes” like this one, though they sound interesting, cannot be substituted for what salmon and steelhead really need for survival - less water exported out of the California Delta and more water allowed to go down river through the estuary. These iconic fish also desperately need improved water quality and water temperature standards and long overdue, modernized fish screens on the Delta pumps.

It appears to me that DWR, an agency whose policies have helped to engineer the collapse of Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon, threadfin shad, juvenile striped bass and other fish populations and the southern resident killer whale population, is using this photo opportunity as a chance to convince the media that it is doing something for salmon while it continues to pursue policies that have killed millions and millions of fish over the years.

Just last week Lester Snow, the same guy that will talking about the “experimental, non-physical fish barrier” that DWR has developed to “restore” imperiled salmon, filed a petition to relax federal rules protecting Delta smelt, an indicator species that has declined to record low population levels in recent years. Snow formally requested the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reinitiate consultation with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation regarding state and federal water project pumping operations on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The massive pumps have exported record amounts of water out of the estuary in recent years.

In a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Snow claimed that freshwater flows to protect the smelt may not be necessary in the light of the recent discovery of a Delta smelt population at Liberty Island that is supposedly “unaffected” by State Water Project (SWP) and Central Valley Project (CVP) operations. The Delta smelt biological opinion issued on December 15 ordered restrictions on Delta water export pumping during wet years to protect the tiny fish during the fall spawning season.

“There is new information that shows there are better ways to protect Delta smelt that also better protect water supply,” said Snow. “The current biological opinion contains conditions which have a high degree of scientific uncertainty for the level of protection they provide, but these conditions have significant water supply impacts for California.”

While Snow is showing the press this “bubble barrier” to demonstrate what a “great job” that the Department of Water Resources is doing to “restore” salmon, the Schwarzenegger administration continues to pursue water management policies that favor corporate agribusiness over fish and ecosystem restoration. Meanwhile, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator Diane Feinstein and San Joaquin Valley agribusiness are pushing for a peripheral canal and more dams that are expected to exacerbate the current salmon and smelt crisis.

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