Trump's secret water report and the species it kills

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Chinook salmon in the fish ladder at the Hiram M Chittenden Locks. Photo credit: Josh Larios (CC BY 2.0)

The Trump administration’s plan for water use in the Central Valley was found to have catastrophic effects on one of California’s unique species of salmon. The report, called a biological opinion, lays out how proposed changes of government water use would pose a huge threat to the Chinook salmon as well as steelhead trout and killer whales who eat them.

Scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service wrote in the report that the proposed changes to California’s water operations “will produce multiple stressors” on the salmon “that are expected to reduce survival and the overall fitness of individuals.” The Trump administration chose to replace the team who wrote the assessment keep the findings hidden, until it was obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

“What the official in California who basically shelved this report said to me yesterday was that the document was just a draft, it was not final, and it needed more work and there was no political pressure to basically bury the report,” says Bettina Boxall, water issues and environmental reporter for the LA Times. “I saw the 1,100 pages there was nothing about a draft on it. There is every indication that this was submitted by the scientists who wrote it as a final opinion and then higher up the food chain it was decided that no, it was not going to be final and it needed more work. Or as the official in California said in an email, that it needed more work.”

The Westlands Water District, one of the largest irrigation districts in California, would be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Trump administration's plans. The district has actively opposed the Endangered Species Act.

“ The current Secretary of the Interior, David Bernheardt, before he joined the Trump administration, [he] personally argued a case challenging salmon protections. So the opponents of these protections have an ally in a very high place,” Boxall says.

Boxall says she thinks that if these revisions are enacted, there will be lots of lawsuits.

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Host:
Larry Perel

Producer:
Cerise Castle