of many species not native to the region.
Recently, several species of native fishes have been listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the California Endangered Species Act. This study focuses only on the federal ESA. The federal listings have led to Section 7 (of the ESA) consultations between the operators of the CVP (the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, or USBR) and of the SWP (the California Department of Water Resources, or DWR) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG). Those consultations led to the issuance of opinions by the Services that required changes (“reasonable and prudent alternatives,” or RPAs) in water operations and related actions to avoid jeopardizing the continued existence and potential for recovery of delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus), winter-run and fall-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), Central Valley steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss), and green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris). The impacts of the RPAs on water users and the tensions that resulted have been exacerbated recently by series of dry years. In the longer term, climate change presents uncertainties and challenges with its anticipated impact on precipitation, snowpack, streamflow, and rising sea level, which will affect not only salinity and riparian habitats in the delta but likely also will threaten the integrity of the extensive system of levees (1,100 miles in length).
The RPAs are divided into many separate actions. The RPA in the FWS opinion (FWS, 2008), divided into six actions, focuses primarily on the flow and storage regimes as affected by diversions (pumping water to the south) and on reducing entrainment, with some focus on habitat. The NMFS RPA (NMFS, 2009) is divided into five actions with a total of 72 subsidiary actions. In addition to its focus on flow regimes, storage, and passage, it includes purchasing water to enhance in-stream flow, habitat restoration, a new study of acoustic-tagged steelhead, and development of hatchery genetics management plans. This committee did not evaluate all 78 actions and subsidiary actions in the two RPAs in detail. It spent most of its time on the elements of the RPAs that have the greatest potential to affect water diversions. It also spent time on elements whose scientific justifications appear to raise some questions.
Protecting all the listed species and preserving existing and projected uses of the region’s water is a serious challenge. As the NMFS biological opinion (NMFS, 2009) says, “the current status of the affected species is precarious,” and “it has been difficult to formulate an RPA that is likely to avoid jeopardy to all listed species and meets all regulatory requirements.” Adding to this difficulty is the existence of the many anthropogenic and other factors that adversely affect the fishes in the region but which are not under the direct control of the