The fight to keep the salmon industry alive

July 24, 2008 7:27:51 PM PDT
The issue of water in California has reached a boiling point.

The governor and senator Feinstein have proposed a $10 billion bond measure, and in Santa Clara County, which gets half of its water from central valley rivers, they're studying the possibility of mandatory rationing.

Bay Area fishermen and environmentalist unveiled a new report on the water crisis.

Fisherman's Wharf was the perfect backdrop. It was filled with salmon boats and fishermen who have been dockside all summer.

"This is bad. I'm twitching. I don't know what to do with myself," said fisherman Larry Collins.

So on Thursday morning, Larry Collins did his next best thing, and attended a press conference that forecasted a dire future for California's Chinook salmon, if the state does not get more water into the streams.

"Salmon are the most senior of water rights holders in this state," said Zeke Grader from the Pacific Coast Fishermen's Association.

Too much water is being shipped to the Central Valley to the West Lands grow hay, cotton, and it's not being allowed to go down through the Delta," said salmon advocate Paul Johnson.

If water flowed as freely as passions about it, California would not find itself in such a mess.

On Wednesday, laid-off farm workers rallied for $10 billion in new dams and waterways, while downstream, in places as far-off as Santa Clara County, Water Resource Managers are starting to study rationing.

"We are in a much worse place this year than last year. And next year could be worse than this year," said Greg Zlotnick from Santa Clara Valley Water District.

There are so many competing interests. People vs. Agriculture, versus endangered species like salmon that now have federal laws protecting them.

Their streams are so low that instead of swimming to the sea, the Department of Fish and Game has been trucking Chinook into San Francisco Bay.

On Thursday, the Natural Resources Defense Council suggested a compromise, that farmers recycle their water upstream. If they did so, California might still have enough of the stuff to go around.

"You put it on crops, run it downstream, pump it up, again, and get to use it twice," said Doug Obegi from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Meantime, the boats sit still and in restaurants overlooking them, the fresh salmon comes from Alaska.


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