No scapefish in drought wars
According to the Biblical book of Leviticus, the ancient Israelites designated a goat to bear the weight of their sins. Nowadays, the scapegoat is not required to be a goat. When it comes to assessing blame for the worsening California drought, a scapefish will suffice. Some media outlets, notably the Wall Street Journal in a recent op-ed piece, point to the hapless Delta smelt as a culprit in the state’s water crisis, as well as a prime example of the iniquities of the federal Endangered Species Act.
As is so often the case, though, it’s not that simple. Day-by-day analysis of water exports from the Delta by Jon Rosenfield and Greg Reis of The Bay Institute shows that smelt protection has had very little to do with water export restrictions during the drought. The bottom line is that water allocations have been cut because of record- low snowpack and reduced runoff.
When diversions by the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project have been further curtailed over the last three dry years, it’s usually because water quality regulations that safeguard water for cities and farms against excessive salinity also limit exports in order to ensure that the projects can pump fresh water to urban and agricultural customers.
Protection of endangered anadromous fish like salmon and steelhead has played a minor role, but delta smelt regulations have not governed exports since early in 2013. As for the ESA, supporters argue that it’s far from the draconic and inflexible law caricatured by its critics. Its real shortcomings are insufficient commitment to the recovery of imperiled species and a chronic lack of funding for implementation.
Continue reading at Estuary News here: No scapefish in drought wars