Nov 19

Congress Making California Drought Worse Through Legislation

By Dr. C. Mark Rockwell
California State Representative
Endangered Species Coalition

The severe drought afflicting much of the West is being used as a smokescreen by some in Congress to undermine critical environmental and wildlife laws including the Endangered Species Act. This past summer and spring, the House of Representatives and Senate passed bills designed to help affected communities with drought relief. Since then, they have not be able to find common ground.

drying landAs you read this, closed-door negotiations are going on in Congress to push through a bill that could be full of bad policy, and long term harm to environmental laws that most Americans support. It appears that the Endangered Species Act, Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and possibly the Clean Water Act are all on the target list, at least from information leaking out of these closed-door talks.

These negotiations could result in Congress pushing through a bill at the last minute without any opportunity for the public to review and comment on this bill or ask for any changes. This is not how Congress should work!

As this goes to all of you, several major conservation groups have just released a comprehensive paper full  of more than 50 actions both the state and federal government can take to relieve the current drought, as well as amour California against future dry periods. Congress should take the time to review and discuss this new paper before taking any actions. The primary goal of the paper is a balanced approach to water management to both provide water for people and the environment. The current Congressional effort does not accomplish that balance.

Legislation that undermines state and federal wildlife and water quality laws could imperil native salmon runs along the West Coast, devastate the critically endangered Delta smelt, lead to starvation and disease among the majestic birds that migrate along the Pacific Flyway, and compromise drinking water quality for millions.

Coho salmon

Coho salmon

Water shortages this year have been caused by the drought – not environmental protections. Federal legislation weakening environmental protections won’t make it rain.

Short sighted Congressional action that undermines these laws is not an answer to the problems, but only an effort to help some communities at the expense of others. Some farmers win, others lose. All fishing communities in central California, coastal areas from central California to Portland, Oregon, lose. San Francisco Bay estuary loses. The S.F. Bay-Delta, the hub of farming and recreation for much of the north state loses. This is not a balanced approach, and picks winners and losers.

There are sustainable solutions to the drought but undermining existing environmental protections should not be part of them. We ask Congress not to undermine important environmental protections, and to take the time to review the new drought relief document from the conservation community. Winter is here giving us some time to be thoughtful and diligent. Congress should not make things worse by a quick and unbalanced legislation.

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