House Republicans to Hold Hearing Investigating Impact of Habitat Protections for Southern California Fish Species on Water Supplies and Economy

In response to a letter from two local congressmen (PDF), Republicans from the Natural Resources Water and Power Subcommittee have scheduled an oversight hearing to examine the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s recent designation of critical habitat for the Santa Ana sucker (Catostomus santaanae).  As reported on this blog, the Service published a final rule (Dec. 14, 2010) designating critical habitat for the Santa Ana sucker, a small fish species occurring in southern California.  The Final Rule designates nearly 10,000 acres in the Santa Ana and San Gabriel rivers and Big Tujunga creek, spanning San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, and Los Angeles counties.

The hearing will be held October 18, 2011, 10:00 a.m. PST in the Highland City Hall in San Bernardino County.  Ren Lohoefener, Regional Director of the Service, is scheduled to appear as a witness.

As reported in Environment and Energy Daily (Oct. 17, 2011), Water and Power Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) stated, "Regulatory excesses are imposing increasingly oppressive costs on operation of local water systems. . . This hearing will examine whether the enormous wealth consumed by these policies has made any significant contribution to enhancing endangered populations -- particularly compared to far more effective and less expensive alternatives."  The field hearing’s title, "Questionable Fish Science and Environmental Lawsuits: Jobs and Water Supplies At Risk in The Inland Empire,"  reflects many Republican House members’ and critics’ objections to the sucker critical habitat.  No Democrats are expected to attend.

In their letter requesting a field hearing, Representatives Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) and Jerry Lewis (R.-Calif.) linked the effects of ESA regulation, implementation, and litigation to the economic downturn:  “California Water Agencies are receiving fractions of their total water allocations and California communities are experiencing record job losses due, in some instances, to water shortages . . .”

The conflict between the protections afforded listed species under the Endangered Species Act on one hand and water supply and economic impacts on the other is not novel.  As widely reported on this blog, the Service has been engaged in protracted litigation over limitations placed on the State Water Project and Central Valley Project to protect the threatened delta smelt.

The Service’s action designating critical habitat for the sucker settled litigation initiated by California Trout and other environmental groups.  On August 23, 2011, Bear Valley Mutual Water Company and several water districts and municipalities lodged a complaint in the United States District Court for the Central District of California challenging the Service's action designating sucker critical habitat within the Santa Ana River watershed in San Bernardino, Riverside, and Orange counties.

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