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Proposed ESA Rollbacks -- A Fork in the Road

Barry Nelson

Posted February 16, 2010

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For the past year, Central Valley agricultural interests have urged Congress to waive Endangered Species Act protections for San Francisco Bay-Delta fish species that are on the brink of extinction.  Congressman Nunes has introduced sweeping legislation (H.R. 3105) to prevent ESA protections for the Bay-Delta from being implemented.  Recently Senator Feinstein announced that she is also considering legislation that would block ESA protections. 

It’s not a surprise that environmentalists and fishermen oppose a rollback of one of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws as it applies to one of the nation’s most important aquatic ecosystems.  (You can read more about the environmental and fishing community response here and here.)  But some may be surprised by the breadth of opposition to this idea and the many reasons why such legislation would be unwise.  During the coming week, my colleagues, Kate Poole and Doug Obegi, and I will be writing a series of posts surveying the opponents to this idea and the far reaching potential implications.

California has a great deal at stake here.  The Bay-Delta is the largest estuary on the West Coast, and is the lifeblood of the commercial and recreational salmon fishery south of the Columbia River.  Farmers and communities in the Delta are deeply concerned about the future of their region.  And all water users know that water is a key to California’s economic health.  Success in California’s famously contentious water policy debate lies in developing workable solutions that do not sacrifice any of these critical interests.  At NRDC, we believe that working together we can find those solutions.

Legislation blocking ESA protections would lead to some simple and obvious impacts, such as potential extinctions and permanent damage to the salmon fishery, and some complicated and less obvious impacts, such as conflicts with state law and implications for other water users. Given the severity and number of those impacts, my colleagues and I will take some time to explain them individually.

It’s a cliché that it’s easier to destroy something than to build something.  Well we’ve built some fragile progress on water issues in the past year.  It would be a tragedy to see that progress lost, perhaps costing us another decade.  (It took almost 10 years to get from the ill-fated CALFED Plan to the state legislative package last November.)  Given what’s at stake, we don’t have the luxury of wasting a decade. 

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Dave SimmonsFeb 18 2010 12:57 AM

She only wants to guarantee a temporary 30% -40% allocation. Humans should be allowed to have a little water while we wait to see if the threatened species are even going to respond positively to pumping restrictions. I don't think that is too much to ask at all. How is giving farmers zero water "working together"?

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