Trump Admin Moves to End Protections for Endangered Fish Threatened by California’s Water Wars
The Trump administration is rolling back protections for endangered California fish species, a move long sought by a group of wealthy farmers that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt continued to lobby for months before he began working for the administration, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
The new policy, released early this week by the Commerce and Interior Departments, would allow more water to be pumped from the San Francisco Bay Delta to irrigate farms. Scientists in the past have found this would harm the delta smelt and West Coast salmon species that swim in the delta, as well as the killer whales that feed on them. But the new "biological opinion" ruled that the fish would not be harmed by diverting more water to agriculture.
"The servile Interior Department has hijacked and subverted the scientific process," Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, said in a statement reported by NPR.
Breaking News! Today, the USFWS & NMFS released new #EndangeredSpeciesAct biological opinions for gravely #endangered #salmon & other native fish species that are affected by massive water project operations in the San Francisco Bay-Delta. Learn more: https://t.co/pAnXCmXzXZ pic.twitter.com/QSRMKKFPEW— Defenders of Wildlife (@Defenders) October 22, 2019
Bernhardt lobbied on behalf of Westlands Water District, a group representing around 1,000 large farmers in Central California, from 2011 to 2016, including pressing Congress to weaken Endangered Species Act protections for the delta smelt, according to The New York Times. Four months after he was confirmed as Deputy Interior Secretary, he phoned the Interior official in charge of delta smelt protections and asked him to conduct a new biological opinion.
President Donald Trump also signed a memo in 2018 asking for protections to be rolled back, The Los Angeles Times reported. But in July of 2019, scientists with the National Marine Fisheries Service found that pumping more water to farms would put endangered winter-run Chinook salmon, threatened spring-run Chinook salmon, threatened Central Valley Steelhead and endangered Southern Resident killer whales at risk for extinction.
Instead of heeding this warning, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Southwest regional director Paul Souza, who was coordinating the reviews of salmon and smelt protections, discarded the document and put a new team together to write a new report. Two documents released this week then found that the increased pumping would not harm the salmon or the delta smelt.
The administration's new plan would create hatcheries to breed fish and monitor fish populations in real time so as to slow pumping only when they are nearby, according to NPR.
"We've been able to create a much smarter approach that focuses on real-time management," Souza told NPR. "Our commitment is that we will be as, or more protective than we have been in the last 10 years."
But environmental groups say that monitoring the fish this way is difficult, especially since their populations have already plummeted. Chinook salmon have lost around 90 percent of their spawning grounds to dams.
"These new biological opinions weaken virtually every protection required by previous decisions, eliminating clear, science-based habitat protections," Kim Delfino, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife, told NPR.
The new pumping rules could go into effect by January, according to the Los Angeles Times. But environmental groups are likely to sue to block them.
The Trump administration is at it again to empower special interests with the release of new biological opinions based on junk science, threatening California #endangered species, local #CAwater supply, and thousands of jobs. https://t.co/9igJquNzhW— NRDC 🌎 (@NRDC) October 22, 2019
"Given the level of political interference and the junk science that has been used ... it would be very unsurprising if these were not challenged and eventually overturned in court," Doug Obegi, a Natural Resources Defense Council attorney who beat back similar changes proposed by President George W. Bush, told the Los Angeles Times.
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World leaders and businesses are not putting enough money into adapting to dangerous changes in the climate and must "urgently step up action," according to a report published Thursday by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
Adaptation Has a Long Way to Go<p>The Adaptation Gap Report, now in its 5th year, finds "huge gaps" between what world leaders agreed to do under the 2015 <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/5-years-paris-climate-agreement/a-55901139" target="_blank">Paris Agreement</a> and what they need to do to keep their citizens safe from climate change.</p><p>A review by the Global Adaptation Mapping Initiative of almost 1,700 examples of climate adaptation found that a third were in the early stages of implementation — and only 3% had reached the point of reducing risks.</p><p>Disasters like storms and droughts have grown stronger than they should be because people have warmed the planet by burning fossil fuels and chopping down rainforests. The world has heated by more than 1.1 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution and is on track to warm by about 3°C by the end of the century.</p><p>If world leaders <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-change-performance-index-how-far-have-we-come/a-55846406" target="_blank">deliver on recent pledges</a> to bring emissions to <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/joe-bidens-climate-pledges-are-they-realistic/a-56173821" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">net-zero</a> by the middle of the century, they could almost limit warming to 2°C. The target of the Paris Agreement, however, is to reach a target well below that — ideally 1.5°C. </p><p>There are two ways, scientists say, to lessen the pain that warming will bring: mitigating climate change by cutting carbon pollution and adapting to the hotter, less stable world it brings.</p>
The Cost of Climate Adaptation<p>About three-quarters of the world's countries have national plans to adapt to climate change, according to the report, but most lack the regulations, incentives and funding to make them work.</p><p>More than a decade ago, rich countries most responsible for climate change pledged to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 in climate finance for poorer countries. UNEP says it is "impossible to answer" whether that goal has been met, while an OECD study published in November found that between 2013 and 2018, the target sum had not once been achieved. Even in 2018, which recorded the highest level of contributions, rich countries were still $20 billion short.</p><p>The yearly adaptation costs for developing countries alone are estimated at $70 billion. This figure is expected to at least double by the end of the decade as temperatures rise, and will hit $280-500 billion by 2050, according to the report.</p><p>But failing to adapt is even more expensive.</p><p>When powerful storms like cyclones Fani and Bulbul struck South Asia, early-warning systems allowed governments to move millions of people out of danger at short notice. Storms of similar strength that have hit East Africa, like <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/zimbabwe-after-cyclone-idai-building-climate-friendly-practices/a-54251885" target="_blank">cyclones Idai</a> and Kenneth, have proved more deadly because fewer people were evacuated before disaster struck.</p><p>The Global Commission on Adaptation estimated in 2019 that a $1.8 trillion investment in early warning systems, buildings, agriculture, mangroves and water resources could reap $7.1 trillion in benefits from economic activity and avoided costs when disasters strike.</p>
Exploring Nature-Based Solutions<p>The report also highlights how restoring nature can protect people from climate change while benefiting local communities and ecology.</p><p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-fires-risk-climate-change-bushfires-australia-california-extreme-weather-firefighters/a-54817927" target="_blank">Wildfires</a>, for instance, could be made less punishing by restoring grasslands and regularly burning the land in controlled settings. Indigenous communities from Australia to Canada have done this for millennia in a way that encourages plant growth while reducing the risk of uncontrolled wildfires. Reforestation, meanwhile, can stop soil erosion and flooding during heavy rainfall while trapping carbon and protecting wildlife.</p><p>In countries like Brazil and Malaysia, governments could better protect coastal homes from floods and storms by restoring <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/mudflats-mangroves-and-marshes-the-great-coastal-protectors/a-50628747" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mangroves</a> — tangled trees that grow in tropical swamps. As well as anchoring sediments and absorbing the crash of waves, mangroves can store carbon, help fish populations grow and boost local economies through tourism. </p><p>While nature-based solutions are often cheaper than building hard infrastructure, their funding makes up a "tiny fraction" of adaptation finance, the report authors wrote. An analysis of four global climate funds that spent $94 billion on adaptation projects found that just $12 billion went to nature-based solutions and little of this was spent implementing projects on the ground.</p><p>But little is known about their long-term effectiveness. At higher temperatures, the effects of climate change may be so great that they overwhelm natural defenses like mangroves.</p><p>By 2050, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/rising-sea-levels-should-we-let-the-ocean-in-a-50704953/a-50704953" target="_blank">coastal floods</a> that used to hit once a century will strike many cities every year, according to a 2019 report on oceans by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the gold standard on climate science. This could force dense cities on low-lying coasts to build higher sea walls, like in Indonesia and South Korea, or evacuate entire communities from sinking islands, like in Fiji.</p><p>It's not a case of replacing infrastructure, said Matthias Garschagen, a geographer at Ludwig Maximilian University in Germany and IPCC author, who was not involved in the UNEP report. "The case for nature-based solutions is often misinterpreted as a battle... but they're part of a toolkit that we've ignored for too long."</p>
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