Inland Empire water agencies want to work with state and federal environmental protection agencies to set up a master plan for habitat restoration and recovery to benefit the Santa Ana Sucker and other endangered species along the Santa Ana River.

Top officials from Riverside Public Utilities, Western Municipal Water District and San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District stated their interest in setting up a master plan in a Sept. 20 letter to Jeff Brandt, a senior environmental scientist for habitat planning at the California Department of Fish and Game, copies of which they sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Riverside Corona Resource Conservation District.

“Our agencies would like to begin work immediately with CDFG, the RCRCD, USFWS, and member agencies of the Santa Ana Sucker Task Force and the Santa Ana Sucker Conservation Team to develop a master plan for habitat restoration and recovery of native fishes in the Santa Ana River and its chief tributaries,” said the letter, which was co-signed by Kevin S. Milligan, assistant general manager of Riverside Public Utilities, Douglas D. Headrick, general manager of San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, and John V. Rossi, general manager of Western Municipal Water District of Riverside County.

“The master plan would identify potential habitat restoration projects, potential sources of funding, and otherwise chart a path toward the eventual recovery of these species. The master plan would also identify standard mitigation measures for construction projects that might be located in the Santa Ana River channel or within one of these tributaries. Lastly, the master plan would identify other avenues through which the participants could cooperate to achieve our shared goal of restoring native fish populations in the Santa Ana River.”

Water agencies are pushing for creation of a habitat restoration plan even as they proceed with a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for doubling the critical habitat area for the Santa Ana Sucker. Water agencies allege the Service violated the Endangered Species Act and other federal laws when it expanded the critical habitat area for the Sucker and worry that the new restrictions on water conservation, groundwater recharge and flood control operations along the Santa Ana River threaten the water supplies for 1 million residents of Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

“We’d like to see the Service work with local agencies in a cooperative way to maximize conservation efforts to nurture the Sucker without putting local water supplies in jeopardy or increasingly our reliance on water imports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta,” said Douglas Headrick, general manager of San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, adding, “We think the Service could achieve a lot more of its objectives by working cooperatively with local agencies.”

In their Sept. 20th letter to Jeff Brandt of the California Department of Fish and Game, local water agency officials also stated their willingness to partner with state and federal agencies to share the cost of research to support species recovery and habitat restoration efforts.

“Our governing boards believe that CDFG and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) should jointly lead an aggressive science program to better understand the habitat preferences of these species, their genetic makeup, and the factors limiting recovery of these species,” water agencies wrote, adding, “Our governing boards would support additional disbursements from the Restoration/Recovery Trust Fund for these purposes, particularly if those funds served as a local cost-share for state and/or federal funding. Our governing boards are also willing to consider other ways in which we could collaborate with CDFG and USFWS in these scientific efforts. Valley District, for instance, has a long history of collaborating with the U.S. Geological Survey on scientific investigations.”

Water agencies also stated in their Sept. 20th letter that development of a habitat restoration master plan could serve as a national model for ecosystem restoration in the midst of a major urban area.

A copy of the complete letter from local water agencies to Jeff Brandt of the California Department of Fish and Game is available at www.sbvmwd.com.