February 14, 2021
In an exclusive by The Sacramento Bee and The Guardian, Ryan Sabalow, Jimmy Tobias, Emily Holden, and Dale Kasler report on how federal biologists were sidelined by Trump officials in making determinations that have further decimated the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta estuary. Their report, “Trump sending more California water to farms troubled federal biologists. They were sidelined,” describes how policy makers, Maria Rea with the Sacramento National Marine Fisheries office, and Cathy Marcinkevage, an agency branch chief, sought to protect the integrity of their scientific findings for Delta fisheries and regarding how the Trump Delta water plan would hurt already endangered Chinook salmon and steelhead. Their efforts were overridden by a strike team that edited out of the report how increased water pumping from the Delta would further harm salmon and whales dependent on Sacramento River salmon for their diet.
“Federal scientists and regulators repeatedly complained they were sidelined by former President Donald Trump’s administration when they warned of risks to wildlife posed by a California water management plan, according to newly unveiled documents.
“The plan, which was finalized in late 2019, favored the former president’s political allies — farmers upset with environmental protections that kept them from receiving more irrigation water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the hub of California’s water network.
The report also documents how Trump appointee Paul Souza, a regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “who is still in his position under the Biden administration, didn’t want [a jeopardy opinion for fisheries] to happen. In [a] May 2019 meeting, Souza told his colleagues that the ‘goal’ of their reviews was ‘no J’, a reference to a jeopardy opinion, according to the meeting notes. ‘That is the objective,’ Souza said, ‘and the schedule does not allow time for a J.’”
Restore the Delta’s Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla says of the story:
“Clearly the Trump water plan was not based on the best science, but on the best political influence money could buy. Delta fisheries are in the worst shape that they have ever been in, and we have real concern about their recovery with continued over pumping at the Federal water pumps, and the poor long-term operations plan for the State Water Project, which was completed in collaboration between the Trump Administration and Governor Newsom’s Department of Water Resources.
“We are calling on the Biden Administration to investigate how political influence weakened Delta fishery protections and to move forward quickly with reversing the Trump Administration’s rewriting of the rules for the estuary. We also expect the same from the Department of Water Resources in relation to how operations were set for the State Water Project in accordance with the Trump water plan for the Delta. We expect operation of the pumps for both the State and Federal water projects to be based on the best available science.
“We also commend the women and men in our Federal fishery agencies for seeking to protect the integrity of their work and findings during the Trump administration. They understood the need to protect Delta fisheries. The Delta continues to be managed as a political football, when it should be protected, restored and valued for its natural wonder and diverse, historical rural and urban communities. The health of Delta communities is directly tied to the health of our fisheries.”