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Mismanagement, Wasteful Spending By Regulators Plague Effort to Restore Central Valley Salmon Populations

Posted by Cicero on August 6, 2012

At a time when the Governor is struggling to build support for his Bay Delta Conservation Plan and just weeks after the Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act was pulled from the ballot for the second time, Californians are naturally skeptical about the competence of those responsible for ensuring both a clean and reliable water supply, and a healthy Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  One of the key elements of a healthy Delta is a stable population of the state’s iconic Central Valley salmon – something the state has not had for many years.

One group of stakeholders decided to find out why, despite over a billion dollars spent on protecting fish, we still do not have a healthy salmon population. The results of the investigation were not surprising – too much government, and no effective coordination. The San Joaquin Tributaries Authority (SJTA), State and Federal Water Contractors Agency and Northern California Water Association combined their resources to conduct the study, which can be found online here. The group, collectively known as the Salmon Recovery Group, found conflicting goals and inconsistent strategies of the regulators of the Delta had effectively cancelled out each other’s efforts.

The three entities primarily responsible for management of the fishery include the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and California Department of Fish Game (CDFG). The target population goal ranges from doubling the salmon population to removing the endangered list. The timelines are also inconsistent with each other as are the strategies being used to achieve the goals.

In a press release issued last week by the SJTA, the executive director of the SJTA expressed a sentiment that probably speaks for most Californians who see the results of this study, “[We] have made significant investments in the recovery of native salmon populations and we are committed to working toward a sustainable long-term plan,” said Allen Short, executive director of the SJTA and general manager of the Modesto Irrigation District. “But this report is disturbing, because it shows a level of mismanagement – and waste of taxpayer dollars – that raise serious doubts about regulators’ ability to chart a productive course in the future.”

The study went on to state several potential solutions, most obviously the common sense solution of more coordination between agencies. The study was sent to each of the agencies, but no public response has been issued.

As the report notes, “None of the three restoration plans reviewed adequately provide a clear and succinct strategy for recovering Central Valley anadromous salmonid stocks to viable and sustainable levels. The principal reason is that these plans were prepared by different agencies for different purposes largely independent of one another. This has led to numerous inconsistencies and disconnects among the three plans.”

While many people may not find the fact that the government is wasteful and spent billions of dollars with little return surprising, that should not make this report any less significant. Water is critical to the future of California and until those responsible for the management of California’s water supply get on the same page, we will unfortunately continue to see even more waste and fewer results.

You can read the study in its entirety here.

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