July 10, 2008

delta smelt update

By delta smelt update

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed changing the status of the delta smelt from "threatened" to "endangered."  What's interesting about this change is that it will have little effect on the protections already afforded to the smelt:

The wildlife service maintains that changing the official status of the fish will make "very little difference" on regulations, as the fish is officially protected whether it is threatened or endangered. But environmental groups hailed the decision to consider action as an important step in the water battle.

"The condition of this species is really, really dire," said Tina Swanson, executive director of the Bay Institute, the Novato environmental group that monitors San Francisco Bay. "Its precipitous decline is a clear indication that we have a serious problem in the delta."

Swanson was one of the authors of a federal petition that prompted the wildlife service to consider changing the status of the fish.

"Diverting water is not without consequences," she said. "The delta smelt is one of the indicators telling us we have overdone it. Perhaps the change in status will underscore the urgency of the crisis."

It is doubtful that this change will in fact lead to greater protection for and more public awareness of the delta smelt and its endangered status. The more likely scenario is that as the summer goes on and the drought continues, Californians will become more aware of this story's impact on another sort of crisis: court-ordered reductions in pumping for the benefit of the delta smelt mean less water for citizens throughout California — this despite the dire circumstances of the state's water shortage and significant uncertainty as to whether reduced pumping will even improve the smelt's situation.

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