Environment & Science

Water agencies sue Fish and Wildlife Service over Santa Ana sucker

A Santa Ana sucker.
A Santa Ana sucker.
Photo courtesy of USGS

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A dozen Southern California water agencies are suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an effort to block expanded sucker fish habitat protection they claim could cost a million people a third of their water supply.

The federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in Santa Ana federal court follows a January decision by wildlife officials to add 1,026 acres to the Santa Ana sucker's critical habitat, bringing the total protected area to more than 10,000 acres.

The Santa Ana sucker is native to the Los Angeles, San Gabriel, Santa Ana, and Santa Clara river systems. The small fish has been embroiled in protests and legal action since the mid 1990s when environmentalists called for the small fish to be placed on the endangered species list. The fish is currently listed as "threatened."

The fish, environmentalists argue, is one of the last vestiges of the healthy rivers that once flowed freely through the LA area.

San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District President Patrick Milligan says expansion was based on what he calls "sloppy science" and a flagrant disregard for Endangered Species Act requirements.

In July, Robert Martin, the head of the East Valley Water District in San Bernardino, held a similar sentiment when he told Congressional staffers the rule threatened the water supply for those who live in the Inland Empire.

"Our concern is that if we get into permitting issues, one of the requirements might be to make releases of this very limited supply of water that we use for domestic purposes right now, to maintain the habitat," he said.

Carol Williams of the San Gabriel Valley Water Association said Fish and Wildlife disagreed with Martin in July, saying, "They felt that our estimates of costs, economic impact were speculative, even though we have 30- to 40-plus years of managing the water supply"

Williams said the estimated costs to would be about $30 million a year for water agencies to replace was they'd stored in reservoirs.

Audio: Inland Empire water agencies are suing the federal government. They claim that protections for a fish called the Santa Ana sucker threaten water supplies.KPCC's Molly Peterson reports.