Stop press: Fish need water

Posted on | March 19, 2010 | No Comments

As reported last night by McClatchy Newspapers, and today by everyone, a scientific panel appointed by the National Academy of Sciences to review controversial federal protections for endangered California coastal fish has concluded that fish need water.

Or, in newspeak, the panel has reported that assessments by federal scientists that led to reductions of water diversions from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta for Central Valley farms and Southern Californian cities were “scientifically justified.”

The protections for Delta Smelt, Chinook Salmon, Steelhead Trout and Green Sturgeon recommended in 2008 and 2009 by biologists from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries division were put to the academy panel for scrutiny last year at the behest of members of the powerful California congressional delegation. Led by Senator Dianne Feinstein, the delegates who demanded the review repeatedly suggested that the federal scientists had over-emphasized the impact of churning pumps and dry stream beds on the collapsing fish populations.

Rather, the senator and Central Valley Representatives Jim Costa (D-Fresno) and Dennis Cardoza (D-Modesto) argued that there were other factors killing the fish.

The National Academy of Sciences committee assembled to consider the soundness of the opinions of the federal biologists acknowledged that there are indeed other “stessors” on the fish besides lack of water, including pollutants that run off from farms and cities. The committee will continue to study why fish die off when their fresh water source is heavily tapped to sustain farms and cities throughout the state while northern Californian agricultural and urban conurbations steadily release pollutants into their diminished waterways.

But the take home news nugget of the day is that experts agree that fish need water.

Elsewhere in California’s convoluted world of water, the Pasadena-based NPR affiliate station KPCC yesterday carried Democratic responses to the challenge from right wing blabbermouth Rush Limbaugh that Reps Cardoza and Costa were somehow withholding votes on healthcare legislation as leverage in the congressional water war. The Central Valley reps have been squared off against fellow California Democrats over an attempt by Feinstein to weaken the Endangered Species Act, under which the fish protections are enforced. Dissenting Democrats led by Los Angeles Congresswoman Grace Napolitano argued that attempts to undermine the Endangered Species Act could lead to the unraveling of comprehensive water reform legislation scheduled to come before California voters in the form of an $11bn-plus bond measure in the fall.

Cardoza called Limbaugh’s suggestion “absurd.”

Click here for the KPCC report, and here to download a copy of the National Academy report.

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