The decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expand critical habitat areas for the Santa Ana Sucker into the dry areas north of the I-10 freeway “will literally shut down a good deal of the inland area’s economy if allowed to stand,” according to John Husing, a Redlands based economist who has studied the region for 47 years.

“The consequences of this ruling would be devastating,” Dr. Husing said, “given that our 13.9 percent unemployment is already the highest among the 49 major U.S. metropolitan areas.”

Water agency documents filed with Service before the ruling indicated that it could annually mean the loss of 125,800-acre feet of San Bernardino Mountain water. As a result, Inland water providers could be forced to spend at least $2.9 billion in ratepayer money over the next 25 years for additional imported water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, assuming that water would be available.

Public documents issued by the Service dismissed the loss of the water and estimated the cost to the Inland Empire at only $12 million over 25 years.

Local water agencies, however, believe that it is highly unlikely that state water would be available to replace the local supply, given restrictions on the State Water Project from the Service’s actions to protect the Delta Smelt. In this context, water agencies say, the Service’s actions are especially damaging.

Even this year, despite a huge Sierra snowpack, existing restrictions on Delta pumping mean the state will only be able to fill 70 percent of state water allocation requests. It was much less in prior years.

“If the Santa Ana Sucker ruling takes away our mountain water, and the Delta Smelt stops the buying of replacement water, then under California Law our water agencies cannot certify any major new construction projects,” Dr. Husing said.  That law requires water agencies to certify availability of a 20-year water supply before new housing, retail, office or industrial projects can move ahead.

“Today, the Inland Empire is the only place able to accommodate Southern California’s long-term growth.  If this ruling stands, it would have the effect of making our construction depression permanent, with horrendous consequences for the Southland’s long-term prosperity,” Dr. Husing concluded.