Junk Science: Environmental debate is often framed as a conflict of progress vs. conservation. But in California, a federal environmental agency's bid to halt local conservation efforts reveals the real objective: expanding power.
Twelve state and local water agencies in Southern California are suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its arbitrary decision last July to double the size of the habitat for a small algae-eating fish known as the Santa Ana Sucker.
Wielding the all-purpose Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's no-explanation decision plants a Godzilla-sized footprint over local efforts to conserve the fish and its environment.
But worse, it will cut water supplies for up to 3 million citizens in Southern California's Inland Empire region, raising water prices and straining water supplies elsewhere all in the name of "conservation."
It's nothing but a power grab that will leave a new round of economic and environmental wreckage.
This is why the lead players are, interestingly enough, water agencies in the small cities within San Bernardino and Riverside counties, which represent some of the still-economically vibrant parts of Southern California — the part that's talked of seceding.
The water agencies have spent great amounts of planning and money to accommodate the economic growth of the water-scarce area by using recycled water treatment plants — which by the way, the sucker fish undoubtedly would thrive in because of all the new algae.
San Bernardino has a big one in the works called "The Clean Water Factory," next to a wastewater treatment plant. It will recycle 25,000 acre-feet of water to supply 100,000 people. City officials there worry the project will be derailed as wastewater will be forced into the Santa Ana River for the new protected habitat.
Fish and Wildlife claims it's all to save the sucker fish. But what it's really doing by putting vast amounts of watery land off-limits is forcing the cities to buy more expensive water coming through the water-scarce Central Valley, an area that has been devastated by a separate application of the Endangered Species Act.
That failed environmental engineering experiment, by the way, sharply cut water deliveries to the Central Valley by as much as 90%, supposedly to save a baitfish known as the Delta smelt.
California's prized vineyards withered, but the smelt never came back.
The Fish and Wildlife ruling is also a slap in the face to local conservation efforts — which in fact have been effective for the sucker fish.
Local conservationists, like the Santa Ana Sucker Fish Task Force, call this flat-footed federal effort to horn in on their work "sloppy science" and say it will interfere with their work.
They have a good case. The fish is rated as "vulnerable," and not the more serious "endangered," on the International for Conservation of Nature scale. According to IUCN, that means it merits careful watching, something local groups are well-suited to do.
But that's not all this arbitrary decision will do.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers warns that the Fish and Wildlife habitat expansion will also interfere with the operation of its Seven Oaks Dam as a flood control facility. That sets the stage for some interesting blame-evasion games when a major flood comes.
And what again is this move by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency supposed to accomplish?
The agencies suing say recent judicial rulings require federal agencies to evaluate and minimize the disruption to human inhabitants before making sweeping Endangered Species Act rulings. Fish and Wildlife has blithely ignored that in this move.
They're also required to analyze and evaluate whether the actions they propose will result in actual benefits to the species in question.
They've done none of that and now have 12 water agencies and a lot of angry local environmentalists after them. What do they think they'll accomplish with this junk-science bid to strip Southern California of its water? The answer seems to be: more power for them.
If this isn't a case for dismantling this behemoth that exists solely for its own sake, what is?
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