Spreck Rosekrans is an Economic Analyst at EDF.
Supporters of the Endangered Species Act breathed a sigh of relief last week when California’s senior Senator, Dianne Feinstein, withdrew her proposed amendment to suspend protections for salmon, smelt, sturgeon and other fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta. But the attack on the ESA is not going away anytime soon.
We are pleased that California’s three-year drought may end this year and that our fisheries, farms and cities will all be better off. But we are disappointed that the Endangered Species Act was granted a reprieve only because we've had more precipitation. The ESA, as the law designed to prevent extinction, cannot be implemented only when convenient.
Feinstein decided to withdraw her amendment, only after learning that Central Valley Project “Agricultural Service” contractors are likely to receive at least 40% of their maximum contractual allocations this year. Had she introduced her amendment, it certainly would have set off a contentious discussion in Congress. Ultimately we do not believe it would have survived, in part due to strong opposition from other legislators, state (PDF) and federal (PDF), as well as newspapers in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco and San Jose. But it is hard to be sure, in part since it may have been linked to the President’s “Jobs” bill which contains provisions critical to many parts of the country.
The ESA as the bull's eye.
Westlands Water District has made it clear that they will pursue any and all opportunities to increase water exports by relaxing current rules that limit the extent to which the San Joaquin River is allowed to flow backward within the Delta for the first half of the year. There seems to be no end to new legal theories challenging the ESA, by Westlands and other water agencies, which are continually brought before our courts. And 2010 is an election year in which we have already seen the effects of the ESA on parts of the Central Valley brought up in campaigns for Governor, the Senate and the House of Representatives. We expect these campaigns to heat up along with the weather in coming months.
Though these attacks are testing our patience, we continue to work cooperatively with these same water agencies to develop a long-term Bay-Delta Conservation Plan – intended to protect and restore the Delta while ensuring reliable water supplies. And, of course, we still support an expanded market for much of the water already extracted from the environment throughout California. Markets can incentivize more efficient water use in our cities and on our farms and provide additional supplies to those who need water most, including farms on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
Regrettably, however, we firmly believe the San Francisco Chronicle was overly optimistic when it opined that Senator Feinstein’s dropping her amendment (for now) represents a “Truce in the Water Wars”. If history is our guide, we fear there is much more to come.