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36 Nat. Resources & Env't 32 (2021-2022)
Rewatering Napa's Rivers

handle is hein.journals/nre36 and id is 34 raw text is: 32 1 nr&e summer 2021

Rewatering Napa's Rivers
Karrigan Bork and Amber Manfree

ong-standing California laws offer fish populations
strong protection. These laws prohibit many migra-
tion barriers, require dam owners to release flows
to protect downstream aquatic life, bar unpermitted
streambed alterations, obligate fish screens on water diversions,
mandate consideration of fisheries in water rights decisions,
and even provide constitutional protection for fishing access.
In nearly every decade since the state was founded, California's
legislature has passed strong and unambiguous laws to protect
fisheries, ultimately proclaiming [t]he protection and conser-
vation of the fish and wildlife resources of this State ... to be of
utmost public interest. 1961 Cal. Stat. 2532. Reading these laws
in the abstract, one might think that Californians had found a
way to have their cake and eat it, too-a robust water storage
and delivery system that supports both a booming agricultural
economy and healthy freshwater ecosystems. But no.
Instead, 80 percent of California's native freshwater fish are
likely to go extinct in the next 100 years, largely due to the very
problems these laws sought to address. Rebecca M. Quinones
& Peter B. Moyle, California's Freshwater Fishes: Status and
Management, 2015 FISHMED Fishes in Mediterranean Env't 1
(2015). We focus in this article on California's iconic salmonids,
mostly salmon and steelhead, which have been particularly
impacted by water infrastructure. In the next 50 years, 45% will
likely go extinct, and 74% will likely disappear in the next 100
years. Peter B. Moyle et al., State of the Salmonids: Status of Cal-
ifornias Emblematic Fishes 2017, UC. Davis Ctr. for Watershed
Scis. at 4 (2017).
Past legislative efforts to protect fishes were well-informed,
but these laws were seldom enforced and now read as a series
of broken legislative promises. Time and again, private inter-
ests overwhelmed efforts to protect the public good. This is the
structural failure that Professor Joseph Sax sought to address
through the modern public trust doctrine. Yet there is hope.

Private litigation built on public trust standing is reinvigorat-
ing old laws. By suing to enforce these laws as the legislative
expression of the public trust, private attorneys general can
require the state to fulfill its promises of healthy fisheries in
California. Private litigation by Water Audit California (Water
Audit) has breathed new life into California Fish and Game
(CF&G) Code 9 5937, a statute requiring dam owners to
release enough water to keep downstream fish in good con-
dition, and improved environmental conditions in the Napa
River watershed. Water Audit is just one player in a broader lit-
igation ecosystem, but its story shows that sound science and
focused litigation can reopen historic habitats and increase fish
populations.
Collapse of California's Anadroim ous Fish
Pn p ulat ion s
California hosts 21 distinct forms of anadromous salmonids,
including trout and salmon that are born in freshwater, emi-
grate to saltwater to mature, and then return to freshwater to
breed. Examples range from legendary Chinook (King) salmon
to lesser-known species like pink salmon. These fish are exqui-
sitely adapted to life in California's sometimes harsh freshwater
environments, with flexible life-history strategies that allow
them to reproduce in great numbers in good times and scrape
by during bad. When populations are healthy, anadromous sal-
monids support thriving food webs by bringing huge influxes
of needed nutrients to inland ecosystems during their annual
breeding migrations. These nutrients even show up in Califor-
nia's wines. Joseph E. Merz & Peter B. Moyle, Salmon, Wildlife,
and Wine: Marine-Derived Nutrients in Human-Dominated
Ecosystems of Central California, 16 Ecological Applications
999 (2006). California's salmon and steelhead are also culturally
significant for Californians and of foundational importance to
indigenous groups.

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