While the Santa Ana River supplies water to 3 million Southern California residents, these restrictions could translate into a net loss of 125,800 acre-feet of San Bernardino Mountain water each year, which amounts to one third of the water supply currently used by 1 million residents of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, cite the 12 water agencies.  The ruling also impacts the ability of agencies, like the city of San Bernardino Municipal Water Department, to utilize recycled water currently discharged to the river.

If allowed to stand, these restrictions will pull the rug out from under efforts by Inland Southern California water agencies to reduce their dependence on water imports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, whose supplies are already constrained due to the Service’s efforts to protect the Delta smelt.

Inland water agencies obtained additional Santa Ana River water rights from the State Water Resources Control Board in late 2009 to reduce the region’s dependence on Delta water supplies. But the Service never participated in the water rights process, unlike the California Department of Fish and Game or the U.S. Forest Service, which both participated in the water rights process. Both reached agreements with water agencies that would protect natural resources and provide water for the Inland Empire.

The Service also ignored written comments from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which warned that the new habitat designation could put millions of Southern Californians at risk by interfering with the operation of the Seven Oaks Dam as a flood control facility.