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Video: A Path Forward for California’s Freshwater Ecosystems

Lori Pottinger December 9, 2019
photo - Salmon Release into San Joaquin River

“The current approach for ecosystem management is not working. We’re proposing an alternative path,” said Jeff Mount, senior fellow at the PPIC Water Policy Center, at a public briefing in Sacramento last week. He described two ways the current path is failing: in preserving the broad economic and social benefits associated with healthy ecosystems and in reversing the long-term downward trend in native biodiversity and ecosystem conditions. “The Endangered Species Act misses all that. It’s emergency room treatment” of a chronic problem, he added.

The event launched a new report that proposes managing more broadly for ecosystem health while still protecting species at risk of extinction. “We need diverse, complex, and varied ecosystems to recover species,” he noted.

A panel of experts brought real-world experience to the discussion. Panelists have worked on a plan to protect habitats for multiple species in the Upper Santa Ana watershed, a program to restore the San Joaquin River, and the effort to remove dams on the Klamath River, among others.

Heather Dyer, an endangered species biologist with the San Bernardino water district, said that in the Upper Santa Ana watershed, a large group of stakeholders is seeking to “reestablish a community of species” rather than solely focusing on one or two endangered species. She noted that improving the health of ecosystems requires planning at larger scales—and with the full landscape of regulators and stakeholders coming together to work things out.

Ali Forsythe of the Sites Reservoir Project noted that the hardest lift for large-scale projects is building trust among diverse stakeholders—especially when the project has had a long history of litigation behind it, as the San Joaquin River restoration did.

Lester Snow, now with the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, raised the issue of urgency for improving the health of the state’s freshwater ecosystems. Noting that the Klamath dam removal is already at the 13-year point with the four dams still standing, he said, “It’s these lead times that I think are killing us. Climate change and the change of our natural resource system are moving faster than we’re responding,” with grave implications for water supply reliability and ecosystem health. “We cannot have two decades of litigation and negotiation to address a problem that is critical today.”

We invite you to watch the event video.

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