Rep. Costa introduces bill to eliminate vital protections for California salmon fishery

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Legislation would undercut critical federal and state efforts to restore the Bay Delta

Summary:

  • Rep. Jim Costa introduced a bill on March 30 that would waive vital Endangered Species Act protections that benefit hundreds of species in California’s Bay Delta ecosystem and provide jobs for thousands of fishermen.
  • If enacted, this legislation would divert more life-sustaining water from spring and fall salmon runs for the benefit of powerful agricultural interests farther south.
  • This legislation overrules the expert opinion of top scientists and undercuts three years of collaborative efforts to develop a comprehensive, long-term conservation plan.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (04/01/2011) -

Rep. Jim Costa introduced legislation on March 30 that would eliminate vital Endangered Species Act protections for imperiled fish and other wildlife in California’s struggling Bay Delta ecosystem.

The following is a statement from Kim Delfino, California director for Defenders of Wildlife:

“This legislation will only further destroy the Bay Delta, the hundreds of species that call it home, and the livelihoods of thousands of people who once made a living off its bounty.  Governor Brown has declared the drought officially over due to record rainfall and snowpack, yet south-of-delta agricultural interests are still seeking to take water away from critically endangered species even as they’re getting water deliveries above what they are seeking in litigation.

“Rep. Costa would like to blame the state’s economic woes on essential environmental safeguards. But the high unemployment rate in the Central Valley is the result of a severe nationwide recession and a three-year drought in California, not the Endangered Species Act. To pretend otherwise diverts attention away from solving the real problems facing the Central Valley. We need real solutions to ongoing resource challenges, not politically-motivated hyperbole.

“While Mr. Costa’s bill purports to benefit Central Valley farmers, it ignores the fact that more than one economy depends upon the Bay Delta.  California’s salmon fisheries have been collapsing with salmon populations reaching all-time lows.  The result has been a closed salmon fishery for three years, resulting in the loss of 20,000 jobs and more than a billion dollars a year for the state economy. Meanwhile, based on the newest employment data from the State of California, farm jobs have increased in 2010 statewide and even in Fresno County.  

“This bill will not only gut critical protections for imperiled wildlife under federal law, but it also steps on state law and state efforts to find a collaborative solution to the Bay Delta’s problems.  This legislation would prevent enforcement of California’s own state Endangered Species Act and other water protection laws.  In addition, this bill would put a stake in the heart of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, a three-year collaborative effort directed at meeting the dual goals of water supply reliability and delta ecosystem conservation.    

“We can restore the Bay Delta and provide enough water for both farmers and fisherman without sacrificing the scientific principles of bedrock environmental laws or undermining forward-thinking conservation planning efforts. This bill’s ‘quick fix’ will not provide any long-lasting solutions. Instead, it will only result in speeding up the death of the Delta, its fish and wildlife, and the communities that rely on this area for their livelihood.”

Background:

California’s Bay Delta ecosystem is the largest estuary in the western United States, which provides thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of income to the economy every year. Excessive withdrawals of water, mostly by agricultural interests, threaten fish species – including the Delta smelt, Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon, and Central Valley steelhead – with extinction. Salmon numbers have dropped so low in recent years that California’s salmon fishery was closed completely in 2008 and 2009 for the first time in history.

A recent study by the University of the Pacific indicates that pumping restrictions have decreased employment in the Central Valley by less than two-tenths of a percent. At the same time, in Fresno County, the state’s top-producing agriculture county, the total number of farm jobs rose slightly last year. According to the latest report from the California Employment Development Department, statewide farm employment has increased since 2006, dipping slightly between 2008-2009 and rebounding in 2010.

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Links:

Read more about what Defenders is doing to protect endangered species in California

Find California employment statistics

Read an economic analysis of the impacts of pumping restrictions on the San Joaquin Valley

Contact(s):

John Motsinger, (202) 772-0288
Kim Delfino, (916) 313-5800 x109

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