ESA Implementation Should Take Comprehensive Approach

The recent debate in Congress over H.R. 1837, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act, revealed sharp differences over how to address our state’s long-term water problems.

Those problems are complex, but one of the key issues is that the Endangered Species Act is not working. There is a constructive role for ACWA to play by engaging in the process and providing specific ideas on how to better administer the ESA.

ACWA’s Federal Affairs Committee voted March 29 to maintain a “watch” position on H.R. 1837 and form a work group to develop solutions to Endangered Species Act implementation issues, reflecting the association’s strong interest in promoting ways to improve ESA implementation.  The committee also voted to work with Senator Feinstein and others to identify actions in California that the federal government could support to improve water supply reliability throughout California.

ACWA supports the underlying goals of the ESA. But current implementation activities are not working, particularly for the species to be recovered. Without a fundamental change in implementation strategy, ACWA believes it will be impossible to achieve the goals of the act while also meeting the needs of California’s families, farms, businesses and communities.

Too often today, agencies responsible for ESA administration focus their limited resources on single-species approaches rather than comprehensive strategies that address an array of factors affecting a species and its habitat. In the case of federally listed species, for example, responsible agencies limit their consultation to individual federal actions under Section 7 of the ESA. The result is often narrowly constructed biological opinions or measures that fall short of remedying the underlying cause of ecosystem and species declines.

It is important to note that in developing and enacting the statute, Congress itself recognized that conservation of ecosystems is the first purpose of the ESA, even before conserving endangered and threatened species themselves.

ACWA believes the implementing agencies should use the flexibility available under existing law to develop more integrated strategies that consider economic and social stability and encourage more parties to help develop solutions. Such an approach will necessarily require agencies to work in a more coordinated manner to address multiple species of concern with a more diverse set of tools.

ACWA’s Board of Directors has adopted policy principles on ESA implementation that call for a comprehensive, ecosystem-based approach that recognizes the coequal goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem health. In our view, taking a multi-faceted approach to the problem will result in more durable solutions and better achieve the goals of the ESA with less impact on water supplies and economies.