The Fallacy of “Fish versus People”

While some Members of Congress and other elected officials have fallen hook, line and sinker for the myth that protecting California's endangered fish species like salmon is a struggle of "people vs fish," other voices are speaking out passionately against this false choice.  Farmers, fishermen, business owners and others recognize that protecting the Bay Delta estuary and its endangered fish protect farming and fishing businesses, recreational opportunities, and the economies of communities across the state. 

The San Francisco Chronicle ran several good op-eds last Sunday from fishermen, conservationists, and restaurant suppliers explaining how protecting the Bay-Delta estuary and its endangered fish species protects their livelihoods and helps ensure fresh, local salmon for California's consumers (something we haven't had for 2 years now).  Yesterday, several hundred Delta farmers, fishermen, and local government officials held a rally in favor of protecting the Delta and their interests at the State Capitol.  And today's Sacramento Bee includes a great editorial that exposes three of the more pervasive myths about protecting endangered fish species and the Delta estuary. 

Ultimately, NRDC wants to see a sustainable Delta, and a 21st Century water policy for California that sustains agriculture, urban communities, the fishing industry and the environment.  Unlike the unprecedented, and unsustainable, record levels of water exports during the Bush Administration, nearly all experts - from the Governor's Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force, to the federal fishery agencies, to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) - believe that sustaining the Delta and balancing the needs of fish and people will require, as the PPIC states in its recent summary, taking "less water from the Delta, at least until endangered fish populations recover." 

But taking less water from the Delta, as compared to the historic, unsustainable levels of the early part of this decade, doesn't mean an end to agriculture or business in California.  Instead, as the Bee noted, California can meet its water needs and sustain the environment by investing in alternative water supplies, like: 

  • Water recycling plants, such as Orange County's existing plant that serves 500,000 people, and the 26 other projects in California which received funding from the federal stimulus bill;
  • Improved agricultural, residential, and commercial/industrial water use efficiency (including installing low flow toilets, "smart" irrigation controllers, drought-tolerant landscapes, high efficiency washing machines, and other technological improvements);
  • Cleaning up polluted groundwater basins and conjunctively managing them as groundwater banks; and
  • Capturing stormwater in urban areas to store water for local use and prevent contamination from urban runoff.

Ultimately, these tools can yield more new water for California than has ever been exported from the Delta estuary.  And that's good news for fishermen, farmers, businesses and urban residents. Not to mention fish.