Are Federal Limits on State Water Use Scientifically Justified?

Published on March 23rd, 2010 | by

The National Academy of Sciences published a report this week supporting federal limits on California farmers’ water use and saying they are scientifically justified. It’s the latest chapter in the state’s long battle that pits environmentalists against agriculturalists. It is often said that as California goes, so goes the nation… If that holds true, water rights and use could be the next Tea Party Issue down the road, or at least something that is on every politician’s platform. Decisions about water use that distinguish between corporate, environmental and agricultural concerns are typically hashed out in state legislatures- seeing science used as justification for federal mandates on state resources will continue to play a major role in politics for a long time to come.

Photo Credit: brothergrimm A new report supports federal limits on San Joaquin - Sacramento Delta pumping.
A new report supports federal limits on San Joaquin - Sacramento Delta pumping.

“The Academy of Sciences report clearly validates the biological opinions. It’s time to stop pitting the economic interests of farmers against fishermen and move forward to find solutions. We have pushed the Bay-Delta system to the brink of collapse and saving it — and the jobs that depend on it — is going to require increased cooperation among all interests.” — Ann Hayden, senior water resource analyst for the Environmental Defense Fund.

In more specifics, the report put some but not all of the blame for threats to Chinook salmon, delta smelt and other endangered fish on agricultural pumping, also saying more research is needed. What is being called a three-year drought has brought much of the tension around water use in the state to a head.

As the Bureau of Reclamation and the State Water Agency both raise their water allocations and Senator Diane Feinstein backs away from her proposal to loosen environmental restrictions on pumping, the situation eases for now. But it will be back, and it will become more frequent in other areas around the country as the population rises and water demands increase.

“We believe the government must do a better job of managing the delta pumps, to make more water available for people while still protecting the fish.” — Paul Wenger,  California Farm Bureau FederationPresident

According to Reuters, a spokesman for the Federation also said the report showed the need for “better justification of water restrictions” and that there were flaws in the Endangered Species Act. Along with the current battles around carbon emissions regulation and the role of the EPA, the convergence of government regulation and environmental issues is now more than ever a daily presence in the private sector. Who justifies who, how and why will become more and more contentious and important, especially around the resource of water.


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1 comment

  • I think water usage does need to be regulated. It is too easy to not think about ‘leaving that tap running’ or taking a long shower. Individually this may not appear much but multiply it by millions and this is why problems and water shortages occur. California has many wild fires and water reserves are needed when fighting these. We should all aim to conserve our water use as much as possible.

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