Stockton, CA – Tuesday 23 February 2010. Today, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) assailed the Stockton East Water District for drying up the Calaveras River and preventing steelhead from migrating to the sea. Steelhead trout are identified as “threatened” pursuant to the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Calaveras River is identified as “critical habitat for steelhead. Dewatering the Calaveras and preventing the outmigration of steelhead represents an illegal “take” in violation of the ESA.
Between 17 February and 19 February, biologists from the Fish Foundation of California inspecting the Calaveras River and Mormon Slough/Diverting Canal identified 34 live and 3 dead outmigrating steelhead trout that had become stranded when river flow became insufficient to enable them to reach the San Joaquin River. All of the steelhead were identified as smolts or silvery “parrs” undergoing smoltification as they made their way downstream. The biologists also collected a delta smelt, which was handed over to biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The steelhead were transported in aerated buckets and successfully relocated downstream in the Calaveras River near the confluence with the San Joaquin. Numerous other stranded species were identified in the isolated pools of water created by inadequate flow releases from Hogan Dam and below Bellota Weir. Many of these other species were found to have perished in the following days. The three-day survey represents a snapshot of ongoing conditions on the Calaveras River.
“Stockton East destroyed the salmon and steelhead fisheries of the Calaveras, denied their existence and conducted a scorched-earth campaign to impede efforts by citizens and state and federal agencies to restore those fisheries,” said CSPA Executive Director Bill Jennings. “In doing so, they have flagrantly violated Public Trust Doctrine, the California Water Code and Fish and Game Code and the federal Endangered Species Act,” he said.
CSPA filed a public trust, unreasonable use complaint against Stockton East before the State Water Board in December 2005. The State Board accepted the complaint, initiated an investigation but stayed the process until the release of a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Unfortunately, the HCP has been stalled for decade because Stockton East refuses to agree to adequate legally required instream flow requirements. CSPA also has a pending notice-of-intent-to-sue against Stockton East for violations of the federal ESA.
“CSPA has directed its attorney’s to begin drafting a lawsuit for violations of the ESA, is calling upon the State Water Board to activate our public trust complaint and is demanding that NMFS initiate enforcement action against Stockton East and release its long-delayed HCP,” said Jennings. “Enough is enough.”