Once again, House Republicans have proposed to weaken the Endangered Species Act at the expense of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a day after the Metropolitan Water District committed to spending $175 million to buy five Delta islands.
The combination is enough to give some Northern California environmentalists the willies.
The seller, a partnership led by Swiss-based Zurich Insurance Group that owned the islands, long sought to make money off the islands, perhaps by turning them into reservoirs. The buyer, MWD, has designs related to its responsibility to supply water to 19 million Southern Californians.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed $15.5 billion, 30-mile-long twin tunnels project to move water around the Delta to the Bay Area, Southern California and San Joaquin Valley farms would cross some of the islands. Metropolitan Water District is Brown’s ally in support of the tunnels. Although escrow won’t close for 60 days, having the water district control the islands would help remove some hurdles to the project.
Even if the tunnels don’t get built – and it’s unclear whether they will – MWD says owning the islands also could speed emergency water diversions if Delta island levees fail in an earthquake, a disaster in waiting that would allow salt water to rush further inland and foul freshwater supplies for farms and urban users.
Major beneficiaries of the tunnels, including some Bay Area cities and agricultural interests south of the Delta such as Westlands Water District, have not committed to supporting the project, much less paying their share. That ambivalence ought to give others pause.
Against that indecision, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, together with other San Joaquin Valley Republicans this week began moving appropriations legislation that would increase pumping of Delta water, even if it might further damage the Delta ecosystem.
Barack Obama will not – and should not – sign a bill to weaken the Endangered Species Act. If anything, the president could opt to take stronger action to protect the Delta smelt, a native species that faces extinction.
McCarthy contends his goal is to get House and Senate water bills into a conference committee to strike a compromise that President Barack Obama would sign. But his press release took swipes at Democrats including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has offered a thoughtful water measure that would not weaken environmental protections.
McCarthy’s political potshot suggests he is less interested in policy and too interested in playing to San Joaquin Valley interests who say the water shortage is “man-made,” rather than the result of drought, a weak El Niño and unrealistic demands placed on an aging water delivery system in a largely dry state.
We hope reality sets in. Obama will not – and should not – sign a bill to weaken the Endangered Species Act. If anything, the president could opt to take stronger action to protect the Delta smelt, a native species that faces extinction.
The $15.5 billion tunnels may or may not get built. MWD may or may not have been shrewd to buy five Delta islands for $175 million. But while all Californians ought to have reliable supplies of water, the Delta ecosystem should not be damaged further, and species should not be driven to extinction.