From: Peter Henderson, Reuters
Published June 5, 2009 07:07 AM

U.S. tells California to cut water use to save fish

Californians' thirst for water has pushed salmon and other fish to the brink of extinction, a federal agency ruled on Thursday as it directed officials to cut water supplies to cities and farms to save several species.

California's rivers used to brim with trout, salmon, sturgeon and more, but the federal, state and local governments built a monumental system of dams and pipelines in the most populous that turned a desert into productive farmland and left some rivers dry.

The state faces a water crisis and a third year of drought. Add climate change and a growing population to the mix, and the fate of some salmon runs looks untenable without change, the National Marine Fisheries Service said in a report ordered as part of a long-running court battle over the salmon.

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It called for a 5 percent to 7 percent cut in water diversions for cities and agriculture from key state and federal water suppliers. Water conservation, recycling and groundwater use could offset the cuts, the report said, but water agencies described a tougher situation.

That reflects a larger argument about whether the state can conserve its way out of crisis or should build more dams and canals to capture the last trickles that bypass the system.

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