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Its time to let Delta smelt just die off so people can live
delta smelt by metric ruler usfws
Delta smelt is an endangered slender-bodied smelt, about 2 to 2.8 inches long. It mainly inhabits the freshwater-saltwater mixing zone of the estuary, except during its spawning season. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

What you are about to read is perhaps the most politically incorrect thing you could say during the drought: It is time to let the Delta smelt go.

I am not a card carrying member of EarthFirst or the Sierra Club. That said I bought a hybrid in 2006 because I felt I had a moral obligation to reduce air pollution sent south to Bakersfield. Since 2008 I've employed the "mellow is yellow" approach to my home toilet and have done dishes just once a week. I also ripped out my grass six years ago to reduce watering and avoid the unpleasant noise and smell of using a lawn mower.

In short, I don't take a Neanderthal Man approach to the environment.

Court and federal government ordered releases of water specifically for the Delta smelt have topped 1.4 trillion gallons since 2008. That is water essentially dumped into the Pacific Ocean via San Francisco Bay. That's enough to meet all the water needs of California's 38.7 million residents for a year.

So how are the Delta smelt that top out at 2.8 inches and have a life cycle of one year doing?

Back in 1967 the annual fall survey came up with eight Delta smelt -¬ the same as in 2014. That doesn't mean there were only eight Delta smelt left. It is simply a random sampling to gauge the population. In March of this year a survey came up with six Delta smelt. In April the survey found just one. Surveys show the Delta smelt have been on the decline since the 1970s.

The Delta smelt was listed as endangered in 1993. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has conceded they can't determine with any certainty what is directly responsible for the Delta smelt's decline.

It is why famers in 2009 sued over a biological opinion issued the previous year blaming the California Aqueduct pumps at Tracy for the decline. That's because the 396-page document was making unexplained assumptions instead of scientifically supported conclusions.

A federal judge agreed. But then the ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2014 reversed the judge even while ripping into the biological opinion as a "jumble of disjointed facts and analyses."

In other words, the appeals court ordered the reduced pumping to continue as well as diversion flows especially for the Delta smelt despite no clear proof that not doing so would lead to the Delta smelt's demise.

Meanwhile, another species is suffering a major reduction in its food supply to accommodate the Delta smelt population that continues to shrink despite cannibalizing California's water supply. The species is man.

Hundreds of thousands of acres are fallow and thousands upon thousands of acres of orchards have been ripped out due to a lack of water. Yes, the drought is the main culprit but water diversions for the Delta smelt have accelerated the loss of productive farmland.

Then there is the unexplored question of what sacrificing water for the Delta smelt is doing to the ecological systems of rivers such as the Stanislaus.

Much of the water that goes to farm irrigation has a dual purpose of keeping water in rivers that Mother Nature would have reduced to a mere trickle or even allow to dry up.

What happens if a survey reveals no Delta smelt? Would that end reduced pumping at Tracy and eliminate diversions to protect the Delta smelt? The odds are environmental perfectionists in collusion with the government would find another fish that is imperiled by the pumps and force the release of millions of acre feet of water beyond what naturally flows down rivers and into the Delta.

And here's a little detail that may make you roll your eyes: Delta smelt are already being sustained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at a fish hatchery near Shasta Dam. Also the University of California, Davis raises Delta smelt at a lab near Stockton for both research and proliferation of the species.

So why not expand such efforts and restock the Delta with smelt when heavy rainfall and snowpacks return?

It's a question that only Congress can answer given how the federal bureaucracy has made the drought much worse than it really is.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.