Poor oversight leaves California dry

These cutbacks compound the water shortages that typically result from California’s volatile precipitation patterns. In 2010, 2009 and 2008, California water agencies received only 50 percent, 40 percent, and 35 percent of the water they ordered from the State Water Project. The result: brutal job losses from water shortages and fallowed land.

A federal court recently ruled that the Service initially imposed pumping restrictions on the Delta without assessing relevant scientific data or considering the impact of its decisions on humans, as required by the Endangered Species Act.

One would think the Service would tighten its internal review processes to avoid these kinds of oversights and misjudgments, which have a profound effect on the lives and livelihoods on millions of Californians. That hasn’t happened. In fact, the problem has worsened to the point where Congressional intervention is needed.

In December, the Service issued a “Final Rule” that dramatically expands existing habitat area for the Sucker to include virtually every water pipeline, treatment plant, groundwater recharge pond and flood control facility along the Santa Ana River in western Riverside and San Bernardino counties, including the congressionally approved Seven Oaks Dam.

The “Final Rule” is devastating to California’s Inland Empire. It disrupts flood control, water conservation and groundwater recharge efforts. It could also translate into an annual loss of up to 125,800-acre feet of San Bernardino Mountain water. That’s enough water for more than 500,000 people. This isn’t water we need in the future. It’s water we need today to sustain our homes and businesses.

Western Riverside and San Bernardino counties already suffer from a 13.9 percent unemployment rate, the highest in California. The last thing our economy needs is to lose access to our local water supply.

The tragic irony in all of this is that inland Southern California water agencies have spent decades developing “local” supplies so as to improve our self-reliance and lessen our dependence on Delta water.

The Service’s ruling also flies in the face of California’s 2009 Delta Reform Act, which mandates that water agencies take steps to reduce their reliance on Delta water and to improve their regional self-reliance by investing in “water recycling, advanced water technologies, local and regional water supply projects, and improved regional coordination of local and regional water supply efforts."

So what was the Service’s rationale for expanding the habitat area for the Sucker? We can’t answer that question.

Six years ago, the Service concluded that existing Sucker conservation efforts by water agencies were sufficient and that no additional habitat land was needed. Water agencies, in fact, have spent the past 10 years developing and implementing a successful Santa Ana Sucker Conservation Plan with the California Department of Fish and Game. The program has produced reproductive monitoring surveys, population estimates, increased project management, habitat surveying and mapping as well as invasive species removal.

The Service’s “Final Rule” fails to provide factual and scientific evidence to justify an expansion of the Sucker’s habitat area, as required by the Endangered Species Act. Moreover, the biological studies the Service cited to justify its decision are inconclusive at best, and at worst, contradict the Service’s own arguments for expanding the critical habitat area.

Twelve Southern California water agencies filed a 60-day notice earlier this week, stating our collective intent to challenge the Service’s “Final Rule” unless it is withdrawn and revised in accordance with the requirements of the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

While we are following this formal process, we are also asking for immediate Congressional intervention and vigorous oversight of the Service’s activities. Nearly 3 million people in multiple congressional districts in Southern California are being affected. We need Congress’s help and we need it now.

Douglas Headrick is general manager of San Bernardino Valley Water District.