A dozen water agencies serving nearly 3
million Southern California residents have formally warned the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service (FWS) that if the federal agency does not want to be sued, it must rescind the recent expansion of critical habitat areas for the Santa Ana Sucker, a small fish that lives in several areas of
the Santa Ana River.
Unfortunately for the FWS, it was a lawsuit from those hell-bent on protecting the Santa Ana Sucker that led to the habitat being expanded.
As Bart Simpson says, “You're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't.” Only in this case “dammed” works, too.
Douglas Headrick, general manager of the San
Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District and member of the Santa Ana
Sucker Task Force, tells the Weekly in an e-mail about the catch-22 the water agencies find themselves in.
Southern California water agencies are struggling to
improve “self-reliance and lessen dependence on water imports
from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta,” where restrictions are in place
to protect the Sacramento River Delta smelt, Headrick says. So the agencies try
to improve and utilize Santa Ana River water and, he fumes, along comes the FWS
pressure to protect the Santa Ana Sucker in the form of the
daunting-sounding “Final Rule.”
“We estimate that the service's 'Final Rule' could result in a net loss
of 125,800-acre-feet of San Bernardino Mountain water each year,” Headrick writes. “That's
enough water for more than 500,000 people.”
Headrick claims the agencies “are successfully conserving the sucker and will
continue to do so. Ironically, the Fish and
Wildlife Service is hindering this positive environmental progress while
destabilizing regional water supplies and the economy of much of inland
Southern California, which depends on reliable, affordable water.”
He is scheduled to testify Friday before the House Interior
Appropriations Committee on behalf of the agencies, which include his water company and Bear Valley Mutual Water
Co. in Redlands; Big Bear Municipal Water District in Big Bear Lake;
the City of Redlands; the City of Riverside Public Utilities; the City of San
Bernardino Municipal Water Department; East Valley Water District in
Highland; Riverside County Flood Control and Water Conservation
District; San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District; Western Municipal Water District in
Riverside; West Valley Water District in Rialto; and Yucaipa Valley
Their 60-day notice of intent to file suit alleges FWS failed to provide factual and scientific
evidence to justify the expansion of the sucker's habitat area and to provide a recovery plan as
required by the Endangered Species Act. The feds are further accused of ignoring reports on the habitat by various state and local water agencies.
The agencies are relying on a report of their own submitted by a Redlands
economist who claims the habitat expansion “will literally shut
down a good deal of the inland area's economy if allowed to stand.”
John Husing, who has studied the
region for 47 years, claims inland water providers could be
forced to spend at least $2.9 billion in ratepayer money over the next
25 years for additional imported water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin
Delta. Public documents issued by the FWS estimate the Inland Empire will lose only $12 million over 25
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service officials received the formal notices of the intent
to file suit Tuesday morning. By law, public agencies must do so 60 days before filing a lawsuit, under the theory that the federal agencies can address potential conflicts so suits do not have to be filed.
The FWS gets it in court from both sides. The Santa Ana sucker habitat was expanded after the Tucson, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity “repeatedly engaged in litigation to compel the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service to designate critical habitat for the Santa Ana Sucker,” reports the center's web site.
The federal agency had initially granted 21,000 acres of habitat but later slashed
the area when it decided
the impact to developers warranted removal of protections. A suit the center
filed against the FWS in 2007 led the agency last year to protect a total of
9,331 acres, including the sucker's namesake river, the mighty Santa Ana.