Saturday, April 4, 2009

It's not the fish, stupid

This probably isn't news, but there's an effort to suspend the Endangered Species Act and get more water flowing through the pumps near Tracy and into the Delta-Mendota Canal and California Aqueduct.

The problem began because the population of a fish called the Delta smelt is dropping like a rock. Many environmental scientists and advocates believe those pumps — and the amount of water they export out of the fish's home — are a major factor in the decline. So under the ESA, water shipments to Parts Previously Unwatered were severely curtailed.

Those calling for an ESA repeal say protecting the "tiny" (see: insignificant) Delta smelt is "putting fish before people." Not without merit, they have argued that farmers are bearing a disproportionate chunk of the burden of the water cutbacks.

But they also miss the mark. In this debate, the Delta smelt is a red herring, and heaping scorn on the icthyoid does the issue an injustice.

The smelt is a stand-in for the entire Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which isn't doing too well in terms of overall health. In fact, calling to mind the water exports and dammed rivers and rampant pollution and invasive species, you might consider the entire ecosystem endangered. Problem is, under the ESA you need an animal in order to protect the ecosystem.

Enter the Delta smelt.

So if we're going to talk about the merits of increasing the amount of water we pump out of the Delta, fine. Let's do that.

But let's not make this debate about the fish.

1 comment:

Mike McLellan, D. Min. said...

"the Delta smelt is a red herring" -- ah, Jon. You are good.