California Drought Spurs Dangerous Attack on Endangered Species Act

Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Bruce Sink.
Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Bruce Sink.
Right now, all anyone can talk about in California is the drought. Our snowpack is at 12 percent of normal levels, our reservoirs resemble drained bathtubs, and our rivers are slowing to a trickle in places. While few seem ready (or willing) to talk about this drought in the context of climate change, many seem ready to offer up solutions.

For example, Speaker Boehner (R-OH) and Congressmen Valadao (R- CA), McCarthy (R- CA), and Nunes (R-CA) held a press conference last week to unveil their so-called emergency drought legislation. While this legislation is being offered up to ease some of our drought-driven problems, the truth is that it will likely only create new ones for our region.

The “Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act” is, at its heart, a bill intended to override Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections in the Bay-Delta and shut down the San Joaquin River Restoration Program, threatening our state’s already struggling fishing industry. But do not be fooled, this “solution” is nothing more than an attack on our state’s environmental protections.

National Wildlife Federation understands the gravity of the situation here in California, but we are wary of solutions that put people and wildlife in a win-lose situation. What we need are solutions that will help people in need during this crisis, but do not rollback our bedrock environmental laws or harm the wildlife we have spent decades trying to protect.

Scapegoating Salmon

In a situation like this, where everyone is hurting, there is a tendency to play the blame game. Here, the backers of the “Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act” are blaming fish for some of the problems facing farmers. Yet these lawmakers fail to see that our fish and farmers are in the same boat: both are suffering from a lack of rain and snow. By shutting down the restoration of the San Joaquin River in order to send more water to farmers, these lawmakers are condemning our endangered salmon to suffer even more losses.

Doing so would reverse the significant progress we have made to date under the Endangered Species Act to restore salmon and other endangered fish species in the delta. It would also have disastrous consequences for California’s fishing industry, devastating Central Valley salmon populations. With our state’s salmon industry valued at $1.4 billion in economic activity annually, this legislation would endanger the livelihoods of the tens of thousands of people the industry employs from Santa Barbara to northern Oregon.

All of this would occur if this legislation was passed and yet the real problem, the drought, would not improve. It’s simple: no amount of environmental rollbacks can make it rain. Instead, we need to look at real solutions, like figuring out how to use conserve our precious water resources and use them more efficiently.

Climate-Fueled Crises

If our members of Congress really want to help the people, fish and wildlife of our state, they should look to embracing solutions to the climate crisis threatening our state and the entire nation. Studies show that climate change is and will continue to make droughts worse. (See here, here and here for our discussion of the issue). Unless we take meaningful action to address climate change, the consequences for our state will continue to worsen.

Take Action Today!

This bill is being rushed to the House floor this week. Take action now and call your Representative by dialing 202-224-3121.  Tell them that Congress needs to see this bill for what it is—an attack on the Endangered Species Act—and needs to be voted down.