A safe and reliable water supply is of the utmost importance to any growing community. In Southern California, a continued water supply is critically important because the region relies on imported water to support the population. However, the need to provide a reliable water supply is at odds with the need to protect critical habitat for the Santa Ana sucker, an endangered fish that calls the rivers and streams of Southern California home. In late July, a group of Southern California water districts filed arguments to overturn a 2012 court ruling that the districts believe will hurt their ability to provide customers with an adequate water supply.
The critical habitat of the Santa Ana sucker is at the heart of the court proceedings between the water districts and a few environmental groups that brought suit. In the 2012 court ruling, the US District Court upheld the US Fish and Wildlife’s decision to double the size of the Santa Ana Sucker’s critical habitat, adding almost 9,000 acres along the Santa Ana River as critical habitat. The new filing looks to review and potentially overturn the decision.
On the one hand, the environmental groups that advocated for the US Fish and Game decision argue that the Santa Ana sucker will face even greater endangerment without active protections in place. The fish needs a certain amount of water in the rivers to lay their eggs successfully. As such, water districts cannot remove significant amounts of water out of the rivers where they live without damaging their critical habitat.
On the other hand, water districts must provide water resources to the community. Our population, residences and businesses need a reliable water supply to sustain our communities in Southern California. Furthermore, new development, an important part of the economy in the Inland Empire also relies on new sources of water to provide service to new residents and businesses. Higher regulations on water resources could make the task of providing water to these regions incredibly challenging. The Santa Ana River is an important source of groundwater recharge into the basins it flows through. A January 16, 2013 presentation to the Orange County Water District’s Board of Directors estimated that 50% of the basin recharge (160,000 Acre Feet out of 320,000 Acre Feet of total recharge) comes from base flows and storm flows from the Santa Ana River. The river is key to the long-term water supply of the region, and water districts as such believe the ruling will challenge their ability to deliver water.
Both parties have an interest in making sure that the court rules in a certain way. We cannot be certain how the court will rule. However, we can be certain that the litigation will continue over the rulings on this endangered fish.