Friday, May 29, 2009

Endangered Species Act Small Part of Water Problem-

Water managers talk joint solutions
ESA issues only a small part of water problem, Snow says

Wes Sander
Capital Press

Thursday, May 28, 2009

In a rare joint appearance, top water managers said last week that species restrictions and water supplies can find balance if competing stakeholders work together.

Outcomes from such a collaboration will hinge largely on whether stakeholders can accept existing and future species regulations, said consultant Steve Thompson said during a panel discussion staged at the Association of California Water Agencies' annual conference in Sacramento on May 21.

"If you look at the state of California, if you look at the federal government, if you look at private industry right now, this is a true tipping point in the state of California," Thompson said. "A big part of that is endangered species and how we react to them."

The water officials used the event to emphasize the notion that California's water woes can only reach resolution through an all-inclusive process.

"We have a group of state and federal agencies here together that are truly committed to working together, and have one of the best working relationships I've ever seen," said Renne Lohoefener, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's California-Nevada Region. "And I think we can solve this."

Lester Snow, director of the state Department of Water Resources, pointed out collaborative habitat conservation plans - like the Bay Delta Conservation Plan now being shaped by the state - as the best means of balancing water interests with conservation.

"Unless we can move to a comprehensive approach ... and develop habitat conservation plans, we're never going to get what we want as water managers, and the species aren't going to get what they need," Snow said. "And the courts and the attorneys are going to get plenty of what they want, and that's a lot of billable hours."

Snow rejected the suggestion of lifting ESA restrictions from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta while solutions are worked out. Species regulations, he said, are responsible for only a small part of the state's water shortage, and lifting them wouldn't change the state's current 40-percent allocations by much.

"If ESA did not exist this year, we'd probably only be at 45, 47 percent," he said. "And I don't say that to say that we don't have ESA issues that have to be corrected and addressed.

"You have to simultaneously solve those equations that are co-equal objectives in the Delta, and that is a healthy and stable ecosystem and an adequate and reliable water supply, and you have to do it at the same time," Snow said. "If you put one over the other, we will never get out of this conflict."

Don Glaser, regional director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, likewise described ESA regulations as a permanent piece of the puzzle.

"I think there is not a (political) will to change the act," Glaser said. "So what that says is we as managers, and you as a community of interest, we need to find a different way to apply the act for a more durable outcome."

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan, Glaser said, can function as the first piece in a set of solutions that might build on one another.

"Everything is in motion. And there isn't one static thing relative to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem, and the species that dependent on it, that's reliable. Glaser said.

"So I personally commit myself and our agency resources to the state being successful, because we need one thing that will stand still for a period of time so that we can put the other pieces on it to find a lasting solution."

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