Decreasing Populations of the Delta Smelt

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The Delta is located in Northern California and is the home for many wildlife and the biggest water distribution in California. It provides fresh drinking water for millions of people and helps provide irrigation water to millions of acres in California. The Delta also emerges fresh water with saltwater from the San Francisco Bay, the largest estuary on the West Coast. This provides a home for many fish and wildlife species but are in danger because of many human activities (Department of Water Resource, 2018).

The general problem is that out fresh water is being disturb by rising salt concentration, droughts, and water diversions. The specific problem is that many fish, specially delta smelt are in the endangered list because of water storage and distribution innovations.


The Delta Smelt is a 3-inch blue/gray fish that habitats in the Sacramento and san Joaquin river Delta. They only live for about a year at most two. The delta smelt does play an important role in the estuary ecosystem, they help determine the estuary health.

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They are also very important in the food chain (Biological Diversity, 2016). As the Delta evolved over the years they have drawn a lot of attention. For many years, there was an abundance of these little fishes, but it all started to unfold during the 80’s. This caused the delta smelt to earn a spot on the state and federal threatened list in the 90’s (Biological Diversity, 2016). This has grown to be a huge concern to many environmentalists and created a huge controversy that pumps, canals, and water diversions are the cause of the decline population of Delta Smelt.

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Over the years it has only got worse and made some people worry how much longer they will be around.

History of the Issue

Delta Smelt have dropped in number so badly as the Delta estuary has developed into the biggest California water distribution. The number in the Delta is so low that scientists believe they can be extinct in the next 5 to 10 years (Biology Diversity, 2016). There has been analysis done for this in 2006 and warned us that in 20 years we could see them go extinct. A group of scientists proved this when trying to catch delta smelt for a survey, clearly, they were near extinct (Biology Diversity, 2016). The Delta transformed into the biggest water distribution for agriculture, urban sources, and even for wildlife and as they keep planning to innovate with new water diversions and water storage they are increasing the chances of extinction. This problem is important because the Delta Smelt are on the verge to becoming extinct.

Current Issue

The Delta has definitely evolved into the biggest water resource of California. Building new dams, pumps, canals, and levees helps to distribute all this water. Although, this has caused the population of fish to decline remarkably. Installing all these water resources has had the estuary change, lowering water levels and disturbing the fresh water causing fish to struggle. These new infrastructures are blamed for seeing a huge decline in population in Delta Smelt. Pumping stations are dangerous to the fish, pumping stations suck them in sometimes killing them in process or trapping them. These new engineered infrastructures are the biggest problem affecting the decline of fish. This issue has grown to be a huge concern, this issue has caused an ongoing battle between farmers and fish. Farmers and urban areas have had to adjust to receiving and using less water than usual. Farmers have been complaining they are not receiving enough water to support their crops resulting in less production and decline in agriculture employment. Huge cutback has been made in order to keep Delta Smelt alive and it has created a huge controversy between who should receive more water, fish or farmers.

The Players

The key players associated with this problem are The Smelt Working Group and Delta Smelt Risk Assessment Matrix. The Delta Smelt risk assessment generates month to month data and this is brought to the Smelt Working group. The Smelt Working group attends meetings for experts who are part of the Smelt Working Group. This group has many experts in the delta smelt biology from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S Bureau of Reclamation, U.s Environmental Protection Agency, and California Department of Water resources and Fish and Game (U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, 2017). The Delta Risk Assessment Matrix aims to protect the delta smelt and works with Reclamation and/or the DWR. These groups all work together and set up meeting with Smelt delta group where all members share discussions and opinions either in person, conference call, or by e-mail. Here, the Working group will analysis available data to decide a fish action (U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, 2017).

The Data Assessment team and Working Group and the Interagency Water management Operations Team receive the recommendations from the Delta Working group during their weekly conference call and discuss possibly putting into effect. If an action comes to an agreement, then the Working group will take action and attempt to discover any benefits from the fish action. The Working group will provide an evaluation about the action ( U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, 2017).

The DWR have imposed a plant to implement a Waterfix project. This project includes two tunnels to transport water from the north to the south of the Delta. This will help provide a reliable source of water for farmers and communities. Also, importantly helps protect fish by reducing the unnatural flows that pull young fish into pumps (U.S Fish and Wildlife, 2017).

The DWR and U.S and Wildlife Service have partnered up with local, state and federal agencies to implement a smelt food production plan. They have come together and came up with an idea of slowing down the spread of water and creating a “flow Pules” which creates a plankton bloom that smelt can feed from. State, federal and local water districts planned to send water through a wetland and of the Sacramento river into the Delta where it creates phytoplankton bloom (Northern California Water Association, 2018).

The Impacts of the Issue

This Problem impacts the agriculture community and the ecosystem. The declination of Delta Smelt has caused many issues. There has been a huge battle between delta smelt and farmers because of the cutback of water. This affects the agriculture community dramatically but may benefit environmentalists. This issue has caused thousands of people to lose their jobs and caused some farms to go out of business. Many farmers in the central valley have abandon their farms and unemployment reach 40 percent in the valley (Water Education, 2017). This has been a huge concern for farmers complaining about the lack of irrigation water (Water Education, 2017).

This problem also affects the ecosystem. The tiny Delta Smelt play a major role in the ecosystem. They are sensitive to environmental change making them a good indicator species of water quality and pollution. Delta Smelt are used to measure the overall health of the delta’s environment (U.S Fish & Wildlife Service, 2017). Seeing this huge declination of the delta smelt is crucial because if delta smelt aren’t doing well, the ecosystem suffers. This also indicates the ecosystem is under stress and may no longer provide recreational and commercial goods and services California expects (U.S Fish & Wildlife Service, 2017). So, by helping to increase the Delta Smelt population and restoring them, essentially restores the overall health of the Bay-Delta ecosystem.

Personal Evaluation

I believe that having the WaterFix project is good because it provides reliable water for farmers and also helps protect the fish. WaterFix project is more economical, considering water cutbacks is a huge economical loss for farmers. Having the WaterFix project helps fix three problems, it provides water for California’s farmland, growing population of humans, and wildlife, all important to California. To me, the WatreFix project will help solve the constant battle of water being distributed unfairly between farmers and fish. Also, I think it could be a huge economic benefit to California. I also believe that the smelt food production is a good economical approach. Increasing plankton that delta feed of can help them during the growing stage and help increase population.

Recommended Policy and Probable Outcome

My recommended policy is having Department of Water Resource to go through the WaterFix project. Having this project will help benefit urban sectors, agriculture community, and fish and wildlife. Farmers will have more water to use for irrigation, urban sectors will have more cleanable reliable water, and these two tunnels will help save fish population. California will benefit from this the most bringing in billions of dollars of net benefits. I believe having all parties help pay for this project is the approach, since they will all be benefiting greatly from this. The likely outcome of my recommendation is providing more reliable and secure water to more Californians, farmland, and most importantly help environmental conditions.

Probable Contribution to the Future of California’s Water

My recommended policy will ensure that these projects will follow through as planned and immediately. Installing these tunnels will be able to provide thousands of cubic feet of water per second for both farmers and urban areas. The state estimates of the project will cost about 17 billion dollars (NorCal Water, 2018). The implementation of this policy should be paid for by Public water agencies and by the federal and state government. The amount of jobs and that will be created during the construction of the project will benefit California economically. This is aimed to benefit urban and agriculture sectors and they should also be paying through state taxes, since they will be happy with receiving more reliable water. This project will benefit everyone in California and should all help pay through state taxes.


Governor Jerry Brown should enact my policy because my policy helps fulfill three goals we all want. That is supplying more water to urban and agriculture while protecting our fish in the Delta. My policy will follow through as planned with the WaterFix project and this will help benefit everyone greatly. Going through with the project will generate jobs for construction and reconstruction, increasing California’s economy. While this benefits urban and agriculture areas the most, water agency will be the ones paying for the bill, initially their customers will pay for it because of higher prices. All in all, California desperately needs a solution and I believe my policy will have a positive impact to the problem greatly.

Cite this page

Decreasing Populations of the Delta Smelt. (2021, Oct 15). Retrieved from

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