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Natural Resources Defense Council sues U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Rice Growers for mismanagement leading to demise of near-extinct salmon


Press contact: Kimiko Martinez, 310-434-2344,; Maggie Caldwell, Earthjustice, 415-217-2084,

Illegal Diversion of Water Threatens to End Chinook Salmon Survival in California

NRDC sues U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Rice Growers for mismanagement leading to demise of near-extinct salmon

SAN FRANCISCO (November 10, 2015) – Environmental groups filed a request yesterday to supplement their complaint against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and growers who flood irrigate rice in the Sacramento Valley for mismanaging water supplies that should have been used to protect California’s once-booming salmon runs and fishing industry.

The new claims – asserted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, San Francisco Baykeeper, The Bay Institute, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, and Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Association/Institute for Fisheries Resources – allege that the Bureau unlawfully diverted limited water supplies from behind Shasta Dam for the use of corporate agriculture, instead of using the water to keep Chinook salmon alive below the Dam.

Several runs of Chinook salmon – including spring and winter runs – are on the brink of extinction in California, weakening the backbone of the salmon fishery. The Bureau’s actions led to the death of more than 95 percent of young winter-run Chinook salmon emerging from eggs and rearing below Shasta Dam in 2014 and appear to have nearly wiped another generation of young salmon this year.

Less than 2 percent of the water flowing through California’s Bay-Delta estuary was dedicated to protecting fish and wildlife in this drought year, while rice growers received millions of acre-feet of water to flood their fields several feet deep in the drought.

“The federal government’s mismanagement of limited water supplies in the ongoing drought is a near-death blow for Chinook salmon and the thousands of people whose livelihood is tied to the salmon industry,” said Kate Poole, litigation director for NRDC’s water program. “The kicker is that we have the ability to create enough water for all of the cities and farms in the state. Our leaders should be focused on putting the available solutions in place that can provide water for us all in dry times, while at the same time protecting California’s jobs and wildlife.”

Instead of relying on outdated water supply models, state and federal leaders should be aggressively implementing 21st century water solutions across California, such as water recycling and stormwater capture. Meanwhile, the agricultural industry should be investing in modern, efficient irrigation technology, rather than flooding fields during a drought.

See full text of complaint here

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