[env-trinity] SF Chronicle 3 20 10
bwl3 at comcast.net
Sat Mar 20 12:59:44 PDT 2010
The science of water limits
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Score one for science. A national panel waded into California's water wars
and sided with salmon and smelt in a politically loaded showdown with
Central Valley farmers.
The report sprinkled "scientifically justified" throughout its 64 pages,
which backed up water curbs denounced by valley water agencies and farmers.
The findings came with important caveats and a call for more research on the
state's sickly water system. But the message is clear: It's time to
negotiate water use and not look for a political knockout punch.
After three years of drought, the federal and state water pumps in the
Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta were dialed down to nearly zero, turning
fertile Central Valley acreage into dust bowls in the nation's biggest
farming state. Adding to the restrictions were decisions by two federal
agencies to withhold water for declining stocks of salmon, sturgeon and
Under heavy pressure to aid farms, the Obama administration this past week
ordered the faucets opened, an action eased by an especially wet winter. But
before that announcement, farm leaders had begged for a fresh look at the
restrictions and found an ally in Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who
ordered up the $750,000 study, even though previous scientific studies by
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had clearly established the need to
preserve water for the fish.
The findings reiterated the need for curbs on water deliveries. Laws
protecting jeopardized species were properly used in safeguarding plummeting
fish stocks, the study by a 15-member panel said.
But there were concessions to the ag side. The giant pumps that kill fish
and ship water south aren't the only villains. Pollution, dams, damaged
watersheds, and the timing and amount of water withdrawals all play a role.
Even other fish such as catfish and non-native striped bass can be harmful,
the scientists said.
Agriculture doesn't deserve the exclusive blame, the report said, in a
finding that should soften the sting of its overall support for limits on
water deliveries. Finding a flexible answer that siphons off water with
minimal environmental damage is the best answer, though striking the right
balance will take "careful monitoring, adaptive management and additional
Whether this happens is one of California's biggest challenges. A polarized
debate exists between environmentalists and farmers, North versus South, and
coast against valley.
This year's wet weather brought a reprieve, but it won't last forever in a
growing state facing climate change. The report should remind the state that
simple answers and political pressure won't solve a water crisis. It will
take consensus and balance. That's good science too.
Byron Leydecker, JcT
Chair, Friends of Trinity River
PO Box 2327
Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327
415 383 4810 land/fax (call first to fax)
415 519 4810 mobile
<mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net
<mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
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