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Water agencies to appeal decision favoring fish and denying 30% of region's fresh water

Thursday, December 20th, 2012
Issue 51, Volume 16.
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RIVERSIDE - A dozen Inland Empire water agencies will appeal a federal judge's decision freeing the Obama administration to expand the habitat of an endangered fish species -- to the potential detriment of land owners and cities that need the water, it was announced today.

In October, U.S. District Judge James V. Selina in Santa Ana sided with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and rejected a lawsuit challenging the federal government's plans to double the protected space set aside for the Santa Ana sucker.

The Riverside County Flood Control & Water Conservation District, Riverside Public Utilities and 10 other local agencies argued that the expansion effectively shut off 125,800-acre-feet of water, depriving the region of one-third of its current fresh water stocks.

The reduced supplies could impact one million residents in parts of Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties, according to the lawsuit.

"We continue to be troubled by (Selina's) decision, which, if unchallenged, could set a legal precedent for federal agencies to ignore their prior commitments to land owners and local governments," said Pat Milligan, president of the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District.

He contended the Wildlife Service relied on flawed research -- filled with "contradictions, omissions and gaps" -- in deciding to move ahead with sucker habitat expansion.

The plaintiffs' appeal will be lodged with the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Court papers state that the Wildlife Service's decision to designate headwaters of the Santa Ana River as "critical habitat" for the sucker will disrupt reclamation operations along the entire channel and result in wasteful releases from the Seven Oaks Dam, located in the San Bernardino Mountains.

The water agencies allege the Wildlife Service violated provisions of the Endangered Species Act by refusing to consult with state and local parties and apply objective scientific criteria in figuring out how best to balance conservation plans against the economic and resource needs of affected communities.

According to the plaintiffs, the federal government also failed to take into consideration that Riverside County's Multi-Species Habitat Plan has enlarged spawning grounds for the sucker.

Federal officials issued findings in 2005 that concluded state and local conservation efforts to protect the species were paying off. However, in 2010, Wildlife Service representatives reversed course.

Citing a 2004 study, they declared gravel and cobble substrate required for the endangered fish's survival had been drastically reduced since dam construction. Federal officials want higher volumes of water released from the dam to promote algae growth for the benefit of sucker habitat.

The Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity has been a driving force behind federal action.

The nonprofit sued the USFWS in 2007, arguing that the agency had failed to extend critical habitat to encompass stretches of the Santa Ana River and its tributaries where the fish population was plummeting.

A Wildlife Service spokeswoman said the critical habitat designation will not hinder agencies from drawing water from the Santa Ana or other areas where the sucker spawns; rather, the designation provides an "additional layer of review" before developers or municipalities can proceed with making any changes along channels recognized as critical to a threatened species.



Comment Profile ImageArt
Comment #1 | Friday, Dec 21, 2012 at 4:18 am
For years now every morning I drive Stage Coach Lane at 5am and rain or shine water is usually gushing down the side of the road from the churches over watering their grass. Local schools should be setting an example for water conservation but instead they also have water runoff. So when I read that water is going to be diverted to a good cause I feel no sorrow.
Comment Profile ImageOregonRain
Comment #2 | Friday, Dec 21, 2012 at 3:13 pm
Another part of agenda 21. I am so sick of the government telling us that they are saving us from ourselves. We need to stop agenda 21 before it is further out of control.
Comment Profile ImageJoemamma
Comment #3 | Saturday, Dec 22, 2012 at 11:05 am
I have to agree with Art. We as Southern Californians can do a lot more to conserve water. On the other hand I feel that environmental liberals tend to take things too far. I saw a documentary about water in the southwest a few years back called Cadillac Desert. It was very interesting and I think would be a good watch for anyone living in the southwest. One of the main points were that large scale agriculture businesses used more water than residences. And if they were to switch from traditional sprinkler systems that have a 80% evaporation rate, to drip systems, that have a 20% evaporation rate, we could relieve a good portion of our water problems. But that would cost millions and the AG companies have stock holders to think about. Being that it is cheaper to make campaign contributions then to make the switch to drip systems I think we will continue to feel the crunch for a while.
Comment Profile ImageMom of lots
Comment #4 | Sunday, Dec 23, 2012 at 3:10 pm
The government, Obama, and the like could care less about the fish. It has nothing to do with fish. It all has to do with who has the authority over our natural resources. The government loves the animal lovers who want to protect the animals. They hide behind this mask and bask in their power and control over whatever they can get their hands on.
Comment Profile ImagePharmg553
Comment #5 | Friday, Feb 22, 2013 at 8:52 pm
Very nice site!

Article Comments are contributed by our readers, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Fallbrook Village News staff. The name listed as the author for comments cannot be verified; Comment authors are not guaranteed to be who they claim they are.


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