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Calls for relief from ESA

The public agency responsible for supplying water to more than a million acres of the Central Valley as well as 1.8 million people in the Bay Area have called on California's senior Sen. Diane Feinstein and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to proceed immediately with legislation to lift some of the constraints on California's water system that have been imposed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The action comes amidst growing concerns that those constraints will prevent California from capturing and storing the water that is currently pouring into the state from an extended system of storms. Instead of being used to relieve the severe economic and environmental losses that have been caused by the combined effects of drought and federal environmental restrictions, that water will be allowed to waste into the ocean.

"We can no longer rely on the federal government to apply the law fairly and to respect the science that should be guiding their decisions," said Dan Nelson, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority. "Instead they are applying a double standard to the science and 25 million Californians are paying the price for that inequity." As an example of the double standard, Nelson pointed to the Department of the Interior's sudden withdrawal of support from the Two Gates Project. For more than a year, Two Gates has been touted as a means of relieving some of the water shortages caused by federal restrictions on pumping water through the Delta that are intended to benefit a tiny minnow called the delta smelt. "They dropped Two Gates because they said the science was unclear on whether turbidity affected the movement of smelt in the Delta," Nelson pointed out. "But their restrictions on pumping are based on exactly the same assumptions about turbidity. In other words, the science isn't good enough to provide relief, but it's perfectly adequate as a basis for making things worse." The impact of those restrictions has contributed to catastrophic losses for California, but without producing any beneficial effects on smelt population. According to the University of California, the federal restrictions on pumping water through the Delta have cost California more than 21,000 jobs and more than a billion dollars in economic losses. But recent surveys show that smelt population has continued to decline.

"The effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act depends upon the quality of the science and the objectivity of the scientists who are charged with its implementation," said Nelson. "Serious questions about the inadequacy of the science underlying these restrictions have been multiplying for nearly two years. The federal agencies responsible for those restrictions have been ducking the questions and the court has already determined that they violated the National Environmental Policy Act when they imposed these rules without adequate review." In 2009, water users that depend on the federal Central Valley Project received only 10 percent of the water they contracted to receive, the lowest allocation in the history of the project. Without the federal restrictions on pumping, the allocation would have been 30 percent. For the coming year, the Department of Water Resources has already announced a 5 percent allocation for State Water Project contractors, the lowest in the history of that project. Under the existing restrictions, the state allocation may rise to 40 percent if the drought is resolved, but without them, the allocation would reach 70 percent. "Neither farmers nor communities on the West side of the San Joaquin Valley can survive another year of 0 - 10 percent allocations," wrote Nelson in his letter to Sen. Feinstein and Speaker Pelosi. "Additional acreage will have to be fallowed, more permanent crops will be damaged or destroyed, more people will lose their farms or farm jobs, and more human suffering will be experienced in small rural communities. Therefore, we implore you to introduce as quickly as possible legislation that would provide for much needed flexibility."

The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority is a joint powers authority composed of 32 member agencies that contract with the Bureau of Reclamation for the receipt of water from the Central Valley Project. These member agencies provide water for irrigation, wildlife refuges and municipal and industrial use in approximately 1,100,000 acres of the western San Joaquin Valley, San Benito County, and Santa Clara County. In addition, the Authority serves the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which is responsible for providing water to 1.8 million people and to the vital high-tech computer industry known as Silicon Valley.

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