1.12.2012 Costa Statement on South-of-Delta Water Announcement

Requests Commerce Secretary’s Direct Engagement in California Water Issues

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Rep. Jim Costa released the following statement upon the announcement from the parties involved in litigation under the 2009 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) biological opinion that they have came to an agreement on an interim operational criteria for the Central Valley and State Water Projects for the spring of 2012.

“Today’s announcement lays the groundwork for further cooperation between federal, state, and public water agencies,” said Costa. “With December and January shaping up to be incredibly dry months for the state, this should be seen as only the beginning of an ongoing effort to secure sustainable water supplies for our region. More collaboration is needed as the fish agencies work to develop a new biological opinion that is based on sound science.”

 

In anticipation of the parties filing the stipulation in the District Court, Costa sent a letter to Commerce Secretary John Bryson urging his leadership and direct engagement in California’s water issues in the days and months ahead. In the letter, Costa also encouraged greater cooperation between federal agencies to complete an integrated biological opinion for project operations. Costa requested a formal meeting with Secretary Bryson to discuss long and short-term solutions to California’s water challenges.

Full text of the letter is below:

January 11, 2012

The Honorable John Bryson

Secretary of Commerce

1401 Constitution Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20230

Dear Secretary Bryson:

First, congratulations again on your recent confirmation as Secretary of Commerce.  As you know, our country continues to face enormous economic challenges.  I look forward to working with you to strengthen the recovery of our economy and accelerate job creation in places like the San Joaquin Valley of California that I represent.   Having worked together in the past, you may recall that throughout my career as an elected official, finding solutions to California’s ongoing water problems has been among my highest priorities.   You may also be aware that beyond the economic recession, California’s historic water wars have continued to play out and reach a boiling point in recent years, with farmers, farmworkers, and farming communities in my District facing record unemployment numbers and persistent economic instability due to mounting regulatory restrictions and hydrological changes that have dramatically affected their water supply.  

The water crisis still exists, and with this in mind, I want to bring to your attention an important issue that will require engagement at the highest levels of your department.  As we discussed a few weeks ago, restrictions have been placed on operations of the Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project by biological opinions issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) dated June 4, 2009 and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) dated December 15, 2008.  These biological opinions have resulted in substantial reductions to water supplies that support two-thirds of California, while benefits to listed fish species in the state have been far from certain. 

Since the biological opinions have been in place, I have been working tirelessly with federal, state, and public water agencies, and other stakeholders to develop and implement short- and long-term initiatives that will restore the water supply to our Valley while also protecting the fisheries.  These have included pressing the Department of Commerce (Commerce) and the Department of the Interior (Interior) to use all available discretion and flexibility within the law to ease water restrictions that have slowed the Valley’s economic recovery.  While initially met with resistance, high-level engagement has given staff within agencies such as the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) and FWS the direction needed to find new ways within existing law to bring more water to the region.  Every drop we have been able to secure is a step forward in our effort.  However, we are nowhere near where we need to be at this stage of the process, especially within Commerce and its agencies.     

As one example, I have been a part of an effort for the past two years to get the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NMFS to reexamine Reasonable and Prudent Alternative Action IV.2.1 under the June 4, 2009 biological opinion that has impacted water supplies to the Valley, but has been shown in numerous instances to have little to no scientific basis.  Both the National Academy of Sciences and the United States Eastern District Court of California (District Court) have repeatedly called into question inflow to export ratios imposed by this Action.  Yet, it was not until the District Court’s most recent decision to remand without vacatur the biological opinion that NOAA and NMFS would even begin to engage with the affected water agencies to identify an alternative solution to this Action. 

It is my understanding that the parties involved in the litigation soon may enter into a stipulation before the District Court that will set forth interim operational criteria for the Central Valley and State Water Projects for 2012 regarding Action IV.2.1 specifically.  I also understand that Regional Administrator Will Stelle has been instrumental in this effort, which is helpful and appreciated.  It is high time that NOAA and NMFS begin to work and engage with the water user community on a process that is so essential to the Valley’s continued economic viability, both in this case and on long-term initiatives such as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP).  At the same time, I am disappointed that the agencies would simply stop the discussion there after what the District Court had to say about the biological opinion as a whole.

It is imperative that scientists and decision makers are held to the highest scientific standard as NMFS works to develop a new biological opinion as expeditiously as possible.  The agency has lost ground throughout this process, and the public must have confidence that the new biological opinion is based on sound science.  Moreover, with December and January proving to be dry months for California, further collaboration is needed if we expect to see real progress in 2012 and beyond.  I respectfully request your direct engagement with NOAA and NMFS to continue to look for new and alternative means of implementing the law on behalf of listed species without further limiting water supplies to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. 

Additionally, on May 3, 2010, Secretaries Gary Locke and Ken Salazar wrote a letter to members of the Federal Bay-Delta Leadership Committee and put out a joint statement announcing their intention to develop a single integrated biological opinion that would address the BDCP and related water operations in connection with the two biological opinions.  The letter included a near-term science strategy to inform interim water operations in 2011 as well as an integrated biological opinion strategy, coordinated through a task force comprised of NMFS, Reclamation, FWS, and the U.S. Geological Survey. This approach followed the National Academy of Sciences March 2010 assessment of the two separate biological opinions, which I worked with Senator Feinstein, Congressman Cardoza, and others to commission in 2009.  Beyond a few press releases by the agencies that summer, I have received no indication whatsoever that Interior and Commerce are committed to developing an integrated biological opinion, despite my repeated requests to agency leaders and staff for an update since the announcement.  Mr. Secretary, this should be a “no brainer” for Commerce.  With California’s water system operating in a coordinated fashion, it only makes sense that the agencies would work hand in glove together to develop a single biological opinion for project operations.  A candid response on the status of this matter would be much appreciated.    

We are at a critical moment, and it is my hope that you will work hard to give California’s broken water system the attention it deserves.  In this vein, I would like to meet with you within the next couple of weeks regarding these issues.  My staff has reached out to your office to set up an appointment that fits within your schedule.

Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to speaking with you soon. 

Sincerely,

JIM COSTA

Member of Congress

Cc: The Honorable Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary and Administrator for NOAA