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California hiding behind tiny smelt, not facing reality

Go outside after dark tonight and find the moon. Extend your right arm out in front of you. Flick up your thumb. Cover the moon.

It will give you an idea of the visionary process California politicians and bureaucrats recently used when they shut down transfer pumps in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to save a handful of minnows.

Politicians at the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) used minnows about the size of your thumb to totally obscure in their minds 25 million Californians and 5 million acres of farmland — just like your thumb can make the moon “disappear.”

Makes you wonder what DWR leaders were thinking when they shut down Delta transfer pumps and told everyone: no big deal. People would just quit drinking water and farmers would stop farming while fish biologists count needles (tiny minnows) in a haystack (the vast California Delta)? It created chaos among farmers. It compromised the integrity of a giant earthen dam. It sent water prices soaring — all in less than two weeks. It threatened more than $1 billion in agricultural crops.

Thank goodness someone with some common sense at the Bureau of Reclamation turned the water back on.

All this over a fish that gets no bigger than 3 inches that is struggling for survival in a Delta lined by cities and industrial plants legally and illegally dumping millions of gallons of waste, toxic and otherwise, into the fish’s habitat.

Everyone agrees Delta smelt is an endangered species, including agriculture. Also indisputable is that the two pumping stations used to move water from Northern California to Central and Southern California endanger the smelt ... maybe only 1 percent of the tiny 1.1-inch smelt minnows during a certain time of the year.

The easy save-the-smelt target is the pumps. You can turn them off and on.

It is easier than dealing with the fact that the San Francisco Estuary is one of the most invaded aquatic ecosystems in North America, as scientists wrote 18 years ago. At that time, the estuary contained 212 identified introduced species: 69 percent invertebrates, 15 percent fish and other vertebrates, 12 percent vascular plants and 4 percent protists (protozoa, algae, and slime molds). In the period since 1850, the San Francisco Bay and Delta region has been invaded by an average of one new species every 36 weeks. Since 1970, the rate has been at least one new species every 24 weeks. Wonder how all that impacts smelt. Certainly not positively.

Turning off the pumps is easier than telling farmers in the Delta to put fish screens on their irrigation pumps. Turning off the pumps is easier than telling Bay area cities and industries to quit dumping their waste into the Delta and the Bay. It is easier than monitoring the thousands of ships invading the Bay carrying invasive aquatic species.

But it seems people with questionable depth perception think they can make the real and very complex issue of the disappearing smelt and the fragile Delta ecosystem health go away by putting their thumb between themselves and reality. When you remove your thumb, the moon does not go anywhere.

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