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Thursday, April 23, 2009

State's Water Hogs face a Catch-22 Situation

Dropping Fish protections would not add much for growers

excerpted from:

4/23/2009--As some lawmakers hold up the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta's endangered fish as a symbol of the farmer's struggle with environmental rules, others are bypassing the notion to focus on long-term fixes to the state's distribution system.Farm interests, many Central Valley business organizations and their Congressional representatives have called for suspension of Delta irrigation pumping restrictions now protecting the Delta smelt under the federal Endangered Species Act to help ease drought impacts. They also favor improvements to the infrastructure.Others in government, sympathetic to the farmers' plight, say the long-term fixes are the only viable solution to the state's water woes.Two factors likely influence that approach. First, the idea of lifting Endangered Species Act restrictions from the Delta is widely expected to go nowhere in Congress. That's a reality blamed on Democratic lawmakers resisting any challenge to environmental laws. But it combines with another reality: lifting ESA rules from the Delta wouldn't improve water availability by much.

Lester Snow, director of the state's Department of Water Resources, estimates that without ESA rules on Delta water, state irrigation allocations might be reaching 35 percent this year, instead of 30. Federal officials give a similar estimate - the Central Valley Project's 10 percent allocations for south-of-Delta farmers might rise to 15 percent, they say."If the ESA goes away this afternoon, we still have a drought," Snow said last week.

Snow also said he believes that pumping restrictions can't save the endangered Delta smelt - the fish called the most precarious of several dwindling Delta species - because the Delta in its modern form won't sustain its populations. Therefore, a relaxing of some restrictions to help relieve economic hardship, especially on the San Joaquin Valley's hard-hit west side, shouldn't be out of the question, Snow said."I believe you could shut the pumps off forever and not recover the smelt," he said. "And then what have you lost?"Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has dismissed the notion of lifting species protections."That is not the solution here," Salazar said April 15 in Sacramento, after touring the Delta by air with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "The solution that we're looking at is one that is going to have to be comprehensive in nature that takes into account the huge variations you're seeing in water supply."...

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