Don't let California's delta smelt disappear forever

A cute little fish with a funny-sounding name, the delta smelt is found only in the open waters of the San Francisco Bay-Delta, the west coast's largest estuary and a major source of drinking water for more than 23 million Californians. But the Bay-Delta is approaching the brink of collapse, as pollution, habitat loss, invasive species and increased water diversions imperil the ecosystem's future.

Delta smelt populations are a crucial barometer of estuary health; the loss of the fish would indicate irreversible damage to the Bay-Delta and could signal the potential extinctions of other delta fish species. Spring trawl surveys found just 25 juvenile smelt this year, the smallest number ever recorded and 92 percent fewer than the previous record low in 2006. But as this important fish faces the brink of extinction, state agencies are evading their legal obligations and failing to take action to protect the few smelt that remain.

Despite the smelt's astonishing population decline, California officials have allowed record levels of water to be pumped from the Delta without a required permit. To add insult to injury, the smelt's decline was preventable. Scientists have been warning state officials for more than three years that the smelt population was perilously low, and have recommended specific management measures -- many of which were ignored.

California has a proud history of environmental stewardship and a right to expect state agencies to show strong leadership in defending our natural resources, something our agencies are presently failing to do. Although Governor Schwarzenegger has made developing a long-term plan for the delta a priority for his administration, to date he has not directed state agencies to implement efforts to reverse the decline of the smelt and the Delta ecosystem.

== What to do ==
Send a message urging Governor Schwarzenegger to instruct state agencies to act now to save the delta smelt from extinction.

== Contact Information ==
You can send a message to Governor Schwarzenegger directly from NRDC's Earth Action Center at or use the contact information and sample letter below to send your own message.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
State Capitol Building Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: 916-445-4633

== Sample letter ==

Subject: Save the delta smelt

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger,

I am seriously concerned about the decline of the delta smelt, the broader deterioration of the critically important San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem and the irresponsible behavior of state agencies in failing to respond adequately to this crisis.

The delta smelt is a key indicator of the health of the west coast's largest estuary, which is an important source of drinking water for millions of Californians. The smelt's extinction would mark a dramatic environmental protection failure and would signal the broader decline of the delta. This extinction, the first in California in the last quarter century, would be a particular tragedy because state agencies have played a critical role in the smelt's decline.

The smelt is just one of many imperiled delta fish. Actions to protect the delta could also protect Chinook salmon, green sturgeon and other endangered and threatened species, as well as increase the reliability of water supplies from the delta. Specifically, I urge you to:

** fully implement the water management actions recommended by the scientific community, including the Delta Smelt Working Group;

** require those who draw water from the Delta to ensure that a sufficient amount of water remains so that the smelt can recover;

** immediately halt discretionary "surplus" pumping of water from the Delta;

** instruct your agencies to comply fully with the requirements of the California Endangered Species Act; and

** direct the Department of Water Resources to develop a long-term plan to meet California's water needs while reducing delta diversions.

Losing the delta smelt would be an irreparable blow to California's environment. I urge you to immediately take all necessary measures to prevent its extinction and ensure its recovery.


[Your name and address]


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