2009 State of the Estuary, Mongan, 10/1/091
2009 “State of the Estuary” conference
The 2009 “State of the Estuary” conference, a gathering of Bay Area environmentalists andenvironmental scientists, was held in Oakland from September 29 to October 1. This conferenceusually devotes a lot of time to decrying purported devastating effects of water exports on theBay/Delta system. In contrast, the 2009 conference was remarkable for what was
said. Themore technical presentations included the following:
Steve Lindley (NOAA) discussed salmon fishery closure in the last two years. He saidthis was necessitated by very low survival of smolts after leaving the estuary. He said theclosure resulted from problems in the ocean,
from problems in the freshwater environment. In response to a direct question asking if the pumps were to blame, he saidthey looked closely at that and could find no important effects of the pumps.
Larry Brown (USGS) discussed the “Pelagic Organism Decline” (POD). He said that theextensive NCEAS effort could not find any variable associated with the 2002 “change point” for the four POD species. He also said the NCEAS effort found no reliableevidence for export (as opposed to inflow) effects on POD species, and noted that thePOD Management Team was now thinking the POD resulted from a climate regime shiftaffecting the entire ecosystem. Finally, he reported results of a study showinglargemouth bass stay in weed beds, don’t eat pelagic fish and are therefore unlikely to beimportant in the decline of delta smelt
Jim Cloern (USGS) reported that bottom fish, crab, and shrimp abundance has beenhigher since 1999 than in previous years, and phytoplankton biomass has been higher inthe last 10 years than in the preceding 20 years. He said this resulted from a cold phasein the eastern Pacific Ocean. That’s hardly consistent with the “devastated estuary”theory.Bill Bennett said the POD decline may have resulted from an ecological regime shift initiated by the spread of invasive water weeds in the Delta. He noted that silversides, centrarchidsand catfish have increased in the Delta and it’s probably impossible to drive the system back to where it favors pelagic fish such as delta smelt. He went on at length about the complexityof the Delta ecosystem, and said we may never really understand the system completely.This line of reasoning troubles me. I think we should focus on trying to rule some things out(like the idea that exports have large effects on the ecosystem). Otherwise, given thecomplexity of the ecosystem, it is likely to be argued that we must continue to rely on theunsubstantiated opinions of the biological priesthood.Bill Fleenor (UCD) compared flows in recent years when POD species did poorly tounimpaired flows and to historic flows when POD species did well. He did note thatunimpaired flows are not natural historic flows into the Delta and that calculated net Delta