October 25, 2012

Critical Habitat upheld for Santa Ana Sucker

By M. Reed Hopper Senior Attorney

After years of litigation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated an expansive area of the Santa Ana River as critical habitat for the Santa Ana Sucker.  Among other things, this designation effectively calls for maintaining minimum water flows to protect the fish.  This restriction could have severe repercussions for water users along the river including flood management practices at Seven Oaks Dam.  As a result, a coalition of water management  districts challenged the designation arguing the agency completely failed to confer with the State about impacts on water resources, relied on “bad science” and did not properly consider the economic consequences of the designation.  Last week, the trial judge ruled in favor of the government, lowering the bar for compliance with the Endangered Species Act.  PLF filed an amicus brief in support of the water districts arguing that the failure of the Service to confer with the State over endangered species protections has led to disastrous results for the State of California as evidenced by the Delta Smelt debacle.  It is likely this case will be appealed.

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