July 22, 2013

Wall Street Journal explains the Endangered Species Act's continuing threat to California water

By Jonathan Wood Attorney

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal explains the problem that the Endangered Species Act poses for providing water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the valley and southern California.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation this spring cut water deliveries to farmers and the two-thirds of Californians who live south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to between 20% and 35% of their contractual allocations. The reason? Because 300 three-inch smelt were caught in the pumps at the south end of the delta. Since the smelt is designated “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, it’s being protected at literally all costs.

Thus 800,000 acre-feet of water this spring was flushed into the San Francisco Bay. That’s enough to sustain 800,000 families, irrigate 200,000 acres of land, grow 20 million tons of grapes and employ thousands of workers. Although California’s jobless rate has fallen to 8.6% and is around 5% in the Bay Area, unemployment in the Central Valley remains in double digits.

In addition to the delta smelt, the editorial identifies two other species that threaten water allocation which have been the subject of PLF litigation—the valley elderberry longhorn beetle and the tiger salamander. The impacts of the beetle on water delivery are perplexing. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s own scientists recommended delisting the species in 2006. Seven years and two lawsuits later, we’re still waiting for the Service to act on this recommendation.  All the while, water users and property owners suffer.

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