California Drought “Relief” Bills Threaten Salmon

West Coast salmon are in a critical state due to loss of habitat, unsustainable diversions, and perhaps most pressingly, California’s unprecedented drought. Indeed, the entire state is in crisis as California’s massive population and industries come to terms with natural resource shortages. In response, Congress is dealing with bills that purport to “relieve” the impacts of the drought. But when it comes to salmon, that relief is virtually nonexistent.

The bills are H.R. 2898 (Valadao) and S. 2533 (Feinstein). While Senator Feinstein’s bill has some important water sustainability provisions for recycling, reuse and stormwater recapture, as well as a small authorization of federal money for salmon habitat restoration, it ultimately fails
salmon and the salmon industry. The bill directs Central Valley water managers to maximize pumping into the San Joaquin Valley to benefit a handful of corporate agribusinesses, relaxes Endangered Species Act protections for salmon when they need those protections most, and facilitate the construction of new salmon-killing dams. Congressman Valadao’s bill is a nonstarter for the fishing industry – it provides relief only for that handful of agribusinesses, and is a deathblow for salmon.

The fight over drought provisions came to a head in December, 2016, when Senator Feinstein and Representative Kevin McCarthy negotiated compromise drought “relief” legislation and tacked it on to the Water Resources Development Act, which is considered by many as a “must-pass” bill that provides funding to remediate Flint, Michigan’s lead crisis. Senator Barbara Boxer, as a valient last act before she retired, brought the fight to prevent the drought rider from becoming law.

PCFFA believes that legislators should be focusing on protecting all water users, rather than selecting water winners and water losers. Water sustainability in California could be a reality, if we work on identifying alternative water sources, use technology to improve our efficiency, and make conservation a part of our everyday lives. Congressman Jared Huffman’s H.R. 2893 embodies a water future for farmers and fishermen. For the sake of our iconic salmon, this is where PCFFA believe California water should be heading.


The Pacific Fishery Management Council, the expert body responsible for the West Coast’s salmon, weighed in on the drought bills. PFMC’s concerns included items in S. 2533 that require water managers to “maximize” water exports from the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary; provisions that undermine portions of the National Marine Fisheries Services’ 2009 Biological Opinion that protects listed salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and killer whales from operation of the Central Valley Project; and provisions that focus attention on striped bass as the cause for Central Valley salmon declines, rather than addressing competition for limited water supplies.


Sign PCFFA’s petition asking West Coast Senators to focus drought relief on water sustainability and protecting fishery resources.

Connect with your congressional delegates. Send your Senators and Congressperson copies of the letters referenced below.


PCFFA and allied fishing groups’ opposition letter against the drought “relief” rider attached to the Water Resources Development Act.

Fisherman Bob Borck of the F/V Belle J II’s  written testimony from the 17 May 2016 Water, Power and Oceans Congressional Subcommittee hearing.

PCFFA’s letter to Congress opposing S. 2533

Read the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s 12 June 2016 analysis letter of Senator Feinstein’s S. 2533.

Many PCFFA members signed this Salmon Industry’s 11 April 2016 Opposition to S. 2533 letter.

And we highly recommend reading the Golden Gate Salmon Association’s excellent analysis of Senator Feinstein’s S. 2533, and their analysis of Congressman Valadao’s H.R. 2898.

Bay Area chefs’ 8 August 2016 letter opposing weakening protections for salmon. Chefs gotta cook, people gotta eat – even the inimitable Alice Waters agrees!


13 December Sacramento Bee article fact checking Senator Feinstein’s claim that 10,000 farmers would go bankrupt without the additional pumping authorized by the Drought Bill. Spoiler: she was way off.

5 December 2016 San Francisco Chronicle article on Senator Boxer’s efforts to prevent the WRDA rider from becoming law.

1 August 2016 Water Deeply article on how California agribusinesses set revenue records during the drought.

(C) Wolverton, LA Daily News