From: Don Thompson, Associated Press
Published October 26, 2004 12:00 AM

Fish Won't Be Hurt by Moving Northern California Water South, Says Federal Agency

SACRAMENTO, California — A federal agency ruled recently that shifting more Northern California water to Southern California will not jeopardize five threatened or endangered species of fish.


The ruling clears the way for the federal Bureau of Reclamation and state Department of Water Resources to sign long-term water contracts with rural irrigation districts and urban water districts. They also can continue with plans to pump more water through the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to thirsty Southern California.


Environmental groups have fought the expected decision by NOAA Fisheries, formerly known as the National Marine Fisheries Service, alleging it was politically motivated. They cited draft biological opinions that said the water transfer would imperil the fish.


Jim Lecky, NOAA Fisheries' assistant regional administrator for protective resources, denied any outside influence or improper altering of the final decision.


"There was some analysis that was faulty and needed to get a second look, and that's what we did," Lecky said.


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The reclamation bureau and state water department want to integrate their parallel reservoir and pumping systems, sign dozens of water contracts lasting 25 to 40 years, and send 27 percent more water to Southern California.


The agency concludes that the water transfers are not likely to jeopardize the Sacramento River winter chinook salmon run, the Central Valley spring chinook run, Central Valley steelhead, Southern Oregon-Northern California Coast coho salmon, or Central Coast steelhead. The ruling includes requirements to try to minimize fish kills.


California's two Democratic U.S. senators and a half-dozen Democratic House members, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, have called for delays and more information before water regulators act.


Barry Nelson of the Natural Resources Defense Council environmental group criticized the agency for signing the biological opinion before the inspector generals of the Commerce and Interior departments complete their investigations of whether the reclamation bureau improperly influenced NOAA Fisheries to alter the initial draft findings.


Source: Associated Press


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