Amid California drought, environmental laws come under scrutiny – Capitol Weekly | Capitol weekly

The effects of the endless drought in California are well known. But one aspect has received relatively little attention – its relationship to environmental laws.

Last year was the second driest water year on record, with all 58 California counties placed under a drought emergency proclamation, according to California’s official drought website. The map shows how the vast majority of California suffers from moderate to extreme drought conditions.

The effects of a water shortage will eventually affect everyone in California as usable water continues its downward trend, says California Water Watch, which tracks the state’s water conditions. It notes that California could lose “10 percent of its water supplies” over the next two decades due to the warming climate.

The cut will affect farmers differently based on their water rights, but both state and federal cuts are clearly having a strong impact.

Some, led by farmers, argue that certain environmental laws — the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) and the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) — actually make drought worse.

Environmentalists and conservationists say wildlife conservation doesn’t hurt agriculture, and fierce debate continues.

It is clear that the water available to farmers has decreased dramatically. For example, California farmers have received little or no water allocation from the federal government, as noted in a March 2022 announcement. The cut will affect farmers differently based on their water rights, but both state and federal cuts are clearly having a strong impact.

CESA is an environmental law enacted in 1970 that “conserves and protects endangered species of plants and animals,” states the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. It protects approximately 250 species from being imported, exported, killed, possessed, bought, or sold into California without proper permission.

Farming advocates say both state and federal governments are protecting species at the expense of feeding people.

The CESA was repealed, replaced by an updated form in 1984, and amended again in 1997.

The federal counterpart of CESA is the ESA, which is administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service. The ESA protects endangered plants and animals together with the states, says the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Farming advocates say both state and federal governments are protecting species at the expense of feeding people. By diverting water from farms, they argue, the laws are making the drought worse and compounding the water supply problems they already face.

This is not a new complaint.

“Agriculture and arable farming are fast becoming endangered species,” says Mario Santoyo, then deputy general manager of the Friant Water Authority, in an article by Catherine Merlo of Dairy Herd Management, a company that helps US dairy farmers in their efforts to become more efficient and to create more profitable dairy companies. It is owned by Farm Journal, an agricultural organization that reports on farmers, producers and the produce supply chain.

By one estimate, it takes about 142 million gallons of water per day to feed California’s dairy cows.

Beth Pratt’s blog defends the ESA and resists attempts to override it, noting the protection of the state’s environmental assets.

Other disgruntled members of the agribusiness said their farms only cover 5,000 acres, compared to 13,000 acres normally. They point to the wildlife conservation efforts that allow a vast amount of water to flow into the vast Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta east of San Francisco instead of supporting farmers.

NPR’s Kirk Siegler also wrote in 2015 about the plight of farmers in the Central Valley, made worse by ESA’s water restrictions. They vouch for the law to be changed to reduce the negative impact on farmers affected by the “government-caused man-made drought”.

But Beth Pratt of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) blog says farmers get hurt and try to blame wildlife conservation for their water problems when wildlife is also suffering from the drought. The blog defends the ESA and resists attempts to override it, noting the protection of the state’s environmental assets.

The NWF blog discusses and advocates the protection of “wildlife habitats and populations” and the defense of the environment.

“I don’t think there are any extinct species that are on the (endangered species) list.” — Ron Storch,

Environmentalists argue that CESA and ESA have succeeded and that the impact on water is not as dramatic as opponents claim.

“I don’t think extinct species are on the list,” says Ron Stork, senior policy advocate for Friends of the River (FOR), a nonprofit advocacy group founded in 1973. “The bald eagle, our country’s symbol, and the California condor have seen significant expansions in recovery and distribution and the like since their listing.”

Stork joined FOR in 1987 as Associate Conservation Director and is a national expert on “Flood Management, Federal Water Resource Development, Hydroelectricity Reform, and Wild and Scenic Rivers.” Among other things, Stork is a member of the governor’s task force on flood management.

Now, the red-legged frogs are “thriving again,” according to the nonprofit Water Education Foundation.

However, Stork acknowledges that CESA and ESA are not without flaws.

“A lot of species, probably most of them, haven’t seen much measurable recovery.” Stork went on to explain that these species have continued to survive under the laws but have struggled to achieve major regeneration in numbers.

Friends of the River (FOR), dedicated to “preserving and restoring California’s rivers, creeks and their watersheds and working to protect and combat climate change.

CESA has made significant strides, saving species like the California red-footed frog that were threatened under the law. Now the frogs are “thriving again,” according to the nonprofit Water Education Foundation. The frogs were reintroduced to Yosemite Valley after a 50-year absence and have been breeding again since 2019.

As a testament to its success to date, more than 227 would have gone extinct had the federal ESA not been passed, the Center for Biological Diversity says. The act was more than 99% successful.

“The law has shown a 90 percent recovery rate in more than 100 species in the United States,” it said.

Editor’s note: Liam Gravvat is a Capitol Weekly intern from Sacramento.

Would you like to see more stories like this? Sign up for The abstract, the free daily newsletter on California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date with news to need to know.

Sign up below and check your inbox for a confirmation email.


Source