[env-trinity] EENews August 4 09

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Tue Aug 4 11:36:42 PDT 2009


Obama admin won't relax ESA to aid Calif. farmers -- Interior official

(08/04/2009)

 

Colin Sullivan, E&E reporter

 

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Obama administration won't ease enforcement of the
Endangered Species Act to help California farmers struggling with three
straight years of drought and decades of water mismanagement, a top Interior
Department official said yesterday in an interview.

 

Deputy Secretary David Hayes, Interior's point person on California water
issues, said the administration's commitment to the law is firm despite the
intense pressure from the San Joaquin Valley to lift pumping restrictions
ordered to protect salmon and the delta smelt in Northern California.

 

"Compliance with the ESA is obviously something that's required," Hayes
said.

 

In a recent town hall-style meeting in Fresno, a farming community hit hard
by the recession, Hayes' boss, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, told
frustrated workers that rolling back the law would be "admitting failure" (
Greenwire, June 29).

 

But farmers, water districts and some members of California's congressional
delegation have continued taking shots at the law, given the state's tough
economic conditions, the drought and limited pumping in the Sacramento-San
Joaquin Delta region to restore salmon runs and protect the delta smelt.

ESA protections have reduced water deliveries from lakes Shasta and Oroville
through the delta into the state's aqueducts.

 

Hayes stressed that he is "sympathetic" with farmers and others suffering
from a water supply crisis that by one estimate has cost the state 35,000
agricultural jobs and $830 million in revenue. He is leading an Interior
task force to address the multiple problems facing the state, which is also
reeling from a collapsed salmon fishing industry to the tune of $1.4
billion, in addition to acres of fallowed fields, the prospect of rationing
in urban areas and degraded ecosystems.

 

"It's important to dial back the rhetoric here," Hayes said. "The major
stakeholders on all sides have recognized that the status quo is
unsustainable."

 

Stimulus first

 

Hayes, a veteran environmental attorney who worked at Interior during the
Clinton administration before taking a job at Latham and Watkins, was
handpicked by Salazar earlier this summer to plummet into the worst of the
California water maze and start fashioning a federal response.

 

How's it going? Until now, Hayes has focused on how to spend $160 million
from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act earmarked specifically for
the federal Central Valley Project, which is a primary source of water for
farmers and municipalities near the delta.

 

Interior last week released $40 million in stimulus funds for a number of
infrastructure projects, including the installation of pipelines, pumps and
water wells. Elsewhere, the Bureau of Reclamation has been busy lining up
willing buyers and sellers to move about 250,000 acre-feet of water around
the state.

 

"There are a lot of areas in California that are doing relatively well in
terms of water supply," Hayes said. "We've been working hard on water
transfers."

 

Hayes added that the department will continue to identify projects to back
financially, to include water reuse and conservation efforts. In all,
stimulus funding for California's drought-related activities is $391
million.

 

'Very daunting'

 

Looking forward, Hayes admitted that the prospect of cutting through red
tape to bring competing commercial interests, environmentalists and the
suite of government agencies involved to the table to somehow work toward a
solution to California's perennial water problems couldn't be more
difficult.

 

Add to that mix a surging population and climate change likely causing
decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada in the years ahead.

 

"It is very daunting," Hayes said. "It's the perfect storm of challenging
problems."

 

Among the solutions often cited in the state are building more dams to
increase storage capacity or constructing a canal around the delta to avoid
having to pump water through from reservoirs and rivers to the north.

Salazar and others have been cold toward the prospect of new dams, but the
canal idea may have legs, Hayes said.

 

"All the analytical work and evaluation work associated with [the canal] is
just getting under way," Hayes said. "It's certainly premature to have a
position."

 

Another shorter-term answer is the "Two Gates" plan, which would drop gates
into the delta to prevent the smelt from getting sucked into the pumps.

Members of Congress have urged Salazar to speed up an environmental review
of the plan, but Hayes said the proposal needs further examination.

 

"That project just appeared on our radar screen," he said. "We're very
interested in it, and we're analyzing it."

 

Looking at the bigger picture, Hayes said, Interior is working with Gov.

Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to advance the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which
aims to improve ecosystem health in the delta while balancing deliveries to

25 million Californians. Hayes said the priority is to "co-prioritize" and
not alienate any interest.

 

"The point is, the system has been operated in a way that is not sustainable
either for reliable water supplies or for the environment," he said.
"There's a structural challenge that needs to be addressed."

 

Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land

415 519 4810 cell

 <mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net

 <mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
(secondary)

 <http://fotr.org/> http://www.fotr.org 

 

 

 

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