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Governor says state is short of both water and patience

Issue Date: September 9, 2009

Saying 38 million Californians are waiting for a federal response to requests made months ago for review of overlapping and conflicting biological opinions for species protections, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told Obama administration officials in a letter last week, "We need to know how to proceed, and we need to know now."

He joined a chorus of agricultural leaders and water officials urging review of problems related to two separate biological opinions issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, aimed at protecting delta smelt and salmon. The fish live in or migrate through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and protections required under the Endangered Species Act have restricted water deliveries from the delta.

The governor said the opinions provide little or no fisheries benefit, "but come at a high cost to the state's economy."

In a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Schwarzenegger noted that "ironically, these opinions work against each other, especially in wet years, which may lead to species conflict and devastating water shortages in following dry years."

California's water crisis continues to grow, Schwarzenegger said.

"Three years of drought continue at serious cost to our farms, our people and our economy. As reservoirs remain low and water deliveries unreliable, those costs increase daily," he wrote.

He pointed out that water deliveries by the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project, which supply two-thirds of California's population with water, are just 40 percent and 10 percent of normal, respectively. Sixty-four water agencies throughout the state have implemented mandatory rationing and, he said, "on the agricultural front alone, we estimate that these reduced deliveries will result in a Central Valley farm revenue loss of as much as $710 million and cost 35,000 jobs."

Stressing that the situation cannot continue, Schwarzenegger said, "We are trapped in an outdated and rigid bureaucratic process that dictates fish protection actions one species at a time rather than evaluating the entire ecosystem and addressing its many stressors."

Acknowledging that state and federal water pumps clearly impact the delta, he added that regulating as if they're the only influences ignores the complexity of the situation, and creates new problems while failing to solve others.

"This cannot and must not go on," he said. "For the past four years, my administration has been working on solutions to California's water supply and the environmental crisis in the delta. However, I am concerned that the catastrophic impacts of the current crisis on our economy and environment could take decades to reverse and significantly hamper any long-term solutions."

Schwarzenegger said the state sent a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service in May requesting a reconsultaton on delta smelt and water project operations. That letter remains unanswered, as does the one sent a month ago to the National Marine Fisheries Service requesting review of the biological opinion related to salmon and green sturgeon.

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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