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Cam Noltemeyer: Of fish and lawsuits

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: August 12, 2009 7:46 p.m.
Updated: August 13, 2009 4:55 a.m.
This week, Castaic Lake Water Agency announced they have filed litigation to challenge the Federal National Marine Fisheries Agency Opinion for Delta fish species.

Among other things, the opinion found the pumps in the Delta that feed the State Water Project were pumping so much water that migrating fish could not move upstream to the spawning grounds.

Instead the fish are pulled into the pumps and destroyed.  

In some cases, so much water is pumped from the Delta that the Old River runs backwards, misleading fish into thinking that the spawning grounds lie in the wrong direction.

Again the fish end up at the pumps.

Those who don’t want to face the reality of a finite water supply have complained that it is really not the pumping that has caused the severe decline in the fish populations.

It is the discharge released into the Sacramento River from a sewage treatment plant or the amount of pesticides that run into the Sacramento River from the adjacent farm fields.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I hear that we really shouldn’t worry about the fish because it’s the sewage and pesticides that are killing them, I have to wonder, “What were they thinking?”

Isn’t this the same water we are drinking ourselves after it travels through another 400 miles of aqueducts next to more farm fields?

Others have argued that we should just let the fish go extinct. We don’t agree.

SCOPE has stated in many previous articles that the fish are our proverbial “canary in the coal mine,” the warning signal to miners of a life-threatening release of toxic killer gas that they could not see or smell.

To us, the crashing fish population is a life-threatening warning that we must not ignore.

Beginning in 2000, at the height of a building spurt and massive water demand from Southern California, it is a clear indication that this precious and finite resource is over-extended.

So here we are, in the midst of a statewide fiscal crisis with many people out of work, and both Castaic and Santa Clarita Water Co. telling the public they will substantially raise water rates next month.  And then Castaic decides to spend public money to file an expensive lawsuit?

They are worried because over 50 percent of our water now comes from Northern California through the State Water Project aqueduct.

Every new housing approval must be supplied with state water because we have fully utilized our groundwater sources.

Perhaps they believe that somehow shaking their fists at a scientific biological opinion will force nature to produce more water in the future.

As far as SCOPE is concerned, the important issue is not whether the fish are dying from sewage in the Sacramento River water or because of over pumping.  It is undoubtedly a combination of both.

So why spend public money arguing about it? It is obvious that we must work together to fix the problems.

If sewage and pesticides are the cause of the decline in the fish populations, why aren’t the water agencies working with the sanitation plants and farmers to reduce this pollution instead of spending the money on $500 an hour attorneys? How will killing the fish clean up this pollution?

It is also obvious that our state cannot afford a $10 billion peripheral canal right now (that’s just a little less than half the amount of the entire budget deficit), especially one that would add no new water to the system.

One quick fix is the “no regrets” policies suggested by several environmental groups.

These include conservation and land-use policies that reduce water usage. They also promote enhancement of local supplies in novel ways from watering landscaping with gray water from the kitchen sink to capturing rainfall on roofs and storing it in cisterns under the house.

They believe that enhancing ground water recharge by leaving streams in a natural state or removing concrete will increase our local supplies.

Our local valley's Integrated Water Resource Plan, approved by the city and water agencies, promoted such ideas.

But it has ground to a halt for lack of state funding in the budget crisis.

We urge the Castaic Lake Water Agency and other water districts to fund answers rather than lawsuits that will not produced any increased water supply.

Cam Noltemeyer is a Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) board member and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.


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