California's unique San Francisco Bay-Delta – including the rivers that feed it and the fish that depend on it – is in a state of crisis. Over half the freshwater that historically flowed into San Francisco Bay is now diverted upstream, with devastating consequences for the Bay’s species and habitats. Incredibly, most water users in the Bay’s watershed are not required to release water to protect the Bay, and many water users do not use water nearly as efficiently or wisely as they should. As a result, Central California's once abundant salmon runs and other fishes are in imminent danger of extinction, and the Bay-Delta ecosystem that supports salmon and other economically critical species is collapsing. In 2008 and 2009, the salmon fishing season was cancelled for the first time in the state's history.
The State Water Board's upcoming decision on whether to require increased flows from the San Joaquin River basin’s portion of the Bay’s watershed is the first test of whether California will restore a balance between the needs of the Bay-Delta's endangered fish and wildlife, public trust resources, the many businesses that depend on healthy fisheries, and the other beneficial uses of water. Right now, in a typical year two-thirds of the natural runoff from the San Joaquin basin is diverted before it reaches the Bay-Delta – sometimes as much as two-thirds of what is left in the river is polluted runoff from farms and cities. Based on the best available science, the Board has already determined that 60% of the San Joaquin River's natural flow in the winter and spring is needed to fully restore the public trust resources of the Bay-Delta ecosystem - our fish, wildlife, and natural habitats.