Delta smelt

The delta smelt is a species that lives in California’s Delta, where half of California’s fresh water is moved through and used for agriculture, industry, and residents.  The delta smelt is sensitive to changes in it’s habitat and it’s decline in the delta is a concern for the smelt and the overall health of the California Delta.  The delta smelt is a concern because the delta smelt is a keystone species in the delta and it’s decline is an indicator on the overall health of the delta.  Many other fish that have been introduced in the delta and are native are also declining in the delta as well.  It is likely that the smelt is decline is due to a combination of factors such as the loss of freshwater flowing, water diversion, introduces species, and pollution.  Fortunately, when conditions are favorable as it was seen in 2011, the smelt’s population could rebound and it shows that the health of the delta is recovering.

Unfortunately, the delta smelt also lives in a region with a high amount of agricultural activity and it’s protection has caused a lot of controversy.  I have been to California many times and I have seen many signs saying “Stop the Congress Made Dustbowl.”   Because one of the reasons the delta smelt is endangered is because of the lack of freshwater flow and the delta getting more salty, and to help the smelt waterflow for the smelt was increased, which reduced the freshwater that could be used in agriculture.  Many people think that the increased waterflow for the smelt is a waste of fresh water and it is solely for the smelt.  The increase in freshwater flowing will also be beneficial to the delta as a whole because the flow of freshwater also reduces the salinity in the delta.

Although the delta smelt is commonly blamed for the lack of water that can be used in agriculture, the loss of the delta smelt is due to a larger environmental issue.  The loss of freshwater flow in the delta will likely cause a decline in other species that live in the delta such as the longfin smelt and the chinook salmon.

(Picture Renee Reyes all rights reserved)

Farmers vs. Fish: The Story of Delta Smelt

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