Delta Protection Plan Undone by Faulty Science

By Matt Baume
|  Wednesday, Dec 15, 2010  |  Updated 10:30 AM PDT
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Delta Protection Plan Undone by Faulty Science

Scott Delawie

I snapped this about 1:00 P.M. today. I especially like the Snow Egrets flying over the channel.

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A plan to save the ecology of the California Delta may do more harm than good, due to confusion and faulty data surrounding a conservation plan.

A federal judge has ordered the US Fish and Wildlife Service to start from scratch with its plan to protect threatened species around the Delta. Originally, the plan called for limitations on water exports, but the judge couldn't find any basis for those actions. Millions of people consume water from the delta, for drinking and agriculture.

That increasing burden has placed stress on the region, resulting in the disappearance of fish species. There's no dispute that the pumping equipment kills fish, but it's still unknown just how much protection they'd receive though limitations on water exports. There's a shortage of data when it comes to preservation for animals such as smelt, a small fish that inhabits brackish estuaries.

Scientists know that the decline in smelt has coincided with an increase in pumping. But it's anyone's guess whether a cessation in pumping will restore the population. There may be other factors, like predators and pollution.

The ruling is good news for consumers of water along the delta. Fish and Wildlife sought to reduce the pumping by 15 to 40 percent, which would have significantly affected the state's multi-billion-dollar agriculture industry, which relies on the pumped water to irrigate the central valley.

But there's no good news for the fish, which will continue to decline as agencies ponder their next steps. A hearing is scheduled for next month to decide how to proceed.

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