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August 9, 2013

TR Quote Friday

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Senate Asks: What Should We Do on Water? Here’s One Answer

Earlier I wrote about a Senate hearing on the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study. In case you missed it, the complete hearing is archived and worth watching.

Members of the committee had a recurring question about the projected 3.2 million acre-foot* shortfall between supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin: What – if anything – should the federal government do about it?

In his opening remarks, Sen. Lee (R-UT) approvingly read from the study’s disclaimer that said the study is not to be used as a foundation for any legislative or regulatory action by the federal government. Sen. Udall (D-CO) directly asked the first panel of witnesses what the federal government’s role should be. Sen. Flake (R-AZ) reiterated this question to the second panel of witnesses, saying it was his preference that the federal government be the “last resort” when it comes to solving water problems in the basin.

These statements reflect an appropriate hesitance in Congress to tell Western states what to do with their water.

Management of water resources has always been the province of the states, a responsibility they vigorously defend. But it is wrong to think the federal government doesn’t have a role to play or Congress a responsibility to act.

Mike Connor, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, called Reclamation a valued partner to the states in water management. Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, was more explicit. He said Reclamation provides essential technical support, guidance and research to the states. He also testified that funding for programs such as WaterSMART makes the Colorado River Basin Study possible. Taylor Hawes, Colorado River program director for The Nature Conservancy, asked for support for WaterSMART in her testimony.

The federal role in responding to our water resources management challenges is broader than what these witnesses testified, however. Leaving aside the fact that issues between states that also impact other countries (e.g., Mexico in the case of the Colorado River) have a necessary federal nexus, the problems in the Colorado River Basin are a bellwether for issues coming to all parts of the country.

The northwestern and southeastern United States are already facing water conflicts analogous to those in the Colorado River Basin, the U.S. energy sector is vulnerable nationwide to projected water shortages and floods, and water for fish and wildlife is too often an afterthought among other competing uses.

If you care about having water to drink in Atlanta or lights that come on in Seattle or wetlands that support wildlife in the northern Great Plains, you should be interested in lessons being learned right now in the Colorado River Basin.

There is one action sportsmen and Congress can take in the short term to address these disparate challenges: support WaterSMART. This program and similar federal efforts are competitive cost share programs that develop local solutions to national problems. According to the Bureau of Reclamation, WaterSMART grants have already led to 616,000 acre-feet of water saved through conservation.

In 2013 alone, WaterSMART gave the following:

  • $1 million to the Hoopa Valley Tribe in northern California to install over 20,000 linear feet of new pipeline to address inefficiencies in the existing delivery system of open ditches and pipes. The project will save 379 acre-feet of water annually, which will be left in Soctish and Captain John Creeks, eventually feeding into the Trinity and lower Klamath Rivers where it will benefit threatened coho salmon and green sturgeon.
  • $200,000 to the Fort Shaw Irrigation District in Montana to upgrade 10,800 feet of open ditch canal to pipe and install six new center pivots, allowing growers to switch from flood irrigation and increase efficiency.  The project will save 2,628 acre-feet annually, which will be left in the Sun River to help maintain and improve minimum stream flows.
  • $1.5 million to the Central Oregon Irrigation District to upgrade 4,500 linear feet of canal to pipe, an improvement that will save 2,552 acre-feet each year.  The conserved water will become permanent instream flows in the middle Deschutes River and in a reach of the Crooked River that is critical for the endangered Middle Columbia River steelhead.
  • $1.5 million to the Cub River Irrigation Company in northern Utah to upgrade 6.5 miles of open ditch canal to pipe. The project will save 2,800 acre-feet of water each year, which will be left in the Bear River and benefit the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge downstream.

In fiscal year 2013, the federal government spent a little over $52 million on the WaterSMART program. For 2014, President Obama has asked Congress for $35 million for the program, a 32 percent cut from last year. The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would fund WaterSMART at $16.6 million, a 68 percent cut from last year. As part of that cut, the House bill would completely eliminate funding for the competitive grants, like those listed above, that have led to significant on-the-ground water conservation in partnership with local communities.

The bright spot is the Senate, which has legislation funding WaterSMART at $51 million. This is essentially the same level as last year, 45 percent above President Obama’s request and three times the House level. When the House and Senate meet to resolve their differences and fund the government for 2014, they can demonstrate to sportsmen how important water conservation is by the level of investment they make in WaterSMART.

Congress can also show its support for sportsmen by extending the successful WaterSMART partnerships with state and local entities. The authorization for water conservation grants is about to run out, which is part of the reason funding is in jeopardy. At a minimum, Congress needs to reauthorize these grants and renew its commitment to water conservation.

The TRCP Center for Water Resources will be taking this message to Congress. Stay tuned for ways you can get involved to let your representatives in Congress know that investments that conserve water for fish and wildlife are important to hunters and anglers.

* An acrefoot of water is approximately as much water as a family of four will use in a year.

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August 5, 2013

Obstacles Facing Florida’s Anglers

Saltwater fishing in Florida is surprisingly good in spite of all of the obstacles anglers face.

Bureaucrats at all levels of government do their best to make things tough for fishermen. From increased fees for citizens to launch their boats at public ramps, regulations that are either too restrictive or too lax, and to environmental issues that are overblown or ignored.

I’ve been covering the outdoors in South Florida for more than 20 years for the Sun Sentinel newspaper in Fort Lauderdale. Some fishing has improved dramatically since I arrived from upstate New York, while fishing for other species has suffered.

One constant during that time: recreational anglers rarely get any credit for the good stuff, but they almost always get the blame for the bad stuff.

For example, the quality of South Florida’s coral reefs has declined, in large part due to pollution and poor water quality. Yet recreational anglers and scuba divers get almost all the blame from agencies and groups that are in favor of marine protected areas, or MPAs, which would keep people out. There is no talk of having Florida’s water management districts limit the amount of polluted freshwater they let loose during and after heavy rainstorms and hurricanes. Much of that water in South Florida goes out to inlets, which hurts reefs and everything that depends on them.

An even worse situation is currently taking place in Stuart, where two of the best inshore fisheries in the state, the St. Lucie River and the Indian River, have been plagued by nasty freshwater being released from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie.

Before a dike was built around the lake, and what used to be the northern Everglades was converted into farmland, when the lake got high, the water overflowed and gently seeped to the south.

Now when the water gets high in Lake Okeechobee – much of it coming from Orlando after a rain event and flowing south through the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and the Kissimmee River into the northern end of the lake – the South Florida Water Management District sends it southeast to Stuart and southwest down the Caloosahatchee River to Fort Myers rather than letting it flow south and impacting sugar cane and vegetable growers.

The dirty water has negatively impacted seagrass, fish and fishing, yet the state allows it to continue, essentially saying that it has no other choice.

Poor water quality that affects coral, sea grass and fish populations also is an issue in Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay, parts of which are in national parks and under federal jurisdiction. The feds’ reponse? Limit boaters and anglers.

Then there is the problem of lionfish. Some of these aquarium fish were dumped in the ocean off South Florida in the mid-1980s. Now the invasive fish, which are native to the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, are everywhere: on reefs, in the Atlantic Ocean as deep as 1,000 feet, the Loxahatchee River, Indian River, and Florida Bay.

Lionfish eat the young of important native species such as snappers and hogfish and have no predators. Divers have been taking it upon themselves to kill as many lionfish as they can while fisheries managers contemplate what to do. Unless they take decisive action, lionfish will eventually decimate recreational fish species in Florida.

 

About Steve Waters

Steve Waters has been the outdoors writer for the Sun Sentinel since August of 1990. He got his start in journalism in Charleston, S.C., where he was a sportswriter and covered sailing. In his spare time, he fished for striped bass on the famed Santee-Cooper lakes with one of the high school football coaches he knew and later bought a bass boat so he could fish there on his own. When his sports editor at his next paper, The Tuscaloosa News, found out he had a boat, he asked him if he wanted to cover the outdoors in addition to covering the Crimson Tide. It wasn’t long before Waters realized that writing about fishing was way more fun than covering Alabama football. He went on to cover the outdoors for two more newspapers and a TV station, as well as sports ranging from golf and baseball to NASCAR and the NHL, before writing full-time about fishing, boating, sailing, diving, hunting, powerboat racing and environmental issues for the Sun Sentinel.

Copyright © 2013, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

 

 

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August 2, 2013

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July 31, 2013

Fishy Business: Debates over Bluefin Tuna at ICCAT Annual Meeting

A School bluefin taken off Long Island with Capt. Chris Hessert of Manhattan Fly

Well it must be summer time, which is hard to tell by the current weather. Rain, rain, and more rain. It must be summer because the different sides are turning up the rhetoric for the annual debate on bluefin tuna. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) will be meeting in November, and the U.S. delegation is beginning to craft its position to take to the annual meeting.

The harvesting side of the resource users would like to see the quotas increased as, in their opinion, the western Atlantic stock is in reasonable shape and those who have sacrificed for so many years should get some benefit from that sacrifice. The other side says that the stocks are still at historic lows and need more protection if they are ever to recover. How can there be such a difference? It boils down to three differences of opinion in what is the “best available science”; recruitment age at sexual maturity; and one stock or two for management purposes.

Recruitment

The first is the question of recruitment and what is the correct recruitment scenario. Harvesters support a low recruitment scenario which, if correct, says that changes have altered the ability of these fish to reproduce at the levels they once did. This decrease in reproductive capacity means that the spawning stock biomass will never reach the size it used to be, so cutting quotas will not make any difference. The more conservative side supports the high recruitment theory which says that the stocks can recover to historic highs and that quotas should be cut in order to achieve these levels. There are some very well known scientists that support both sides of the question. I wish I thought that ICCAT could be the arbiter of this question, but it is highly likely they would support the harvesters.

Age

The next issue is the age at which bluefins reach sexual maturity. In the western  Atlantic it has been thought that sexual maturity was later than in the eastern stocks. If they reach sexual maturity earlier, then the fish add to the overall population sooner. Harvesters support the younger age at maturity. Those who are conservation minded do not.

Different Stocks

The last item is the concept of two distinct stocks, western and eastern. Some believe that they should be managed as one stock. Managing as one stock is less conservative for the western North Atlantic stock, and those who want to increase the quota embrace that concept.

So, on goes the argument as to whose science is the “best available.” If this argument about science does not make you nervous, then this should: ten northeast Senators and Congressmen are adding their “expertise” to the science debate by requesting a specific action from the head of the U.S. Delegation to ICCAT. These are the same members of Congress who cannot get the important issues resolved for our country, and now they are experts in fisheries matters. Yikes, I don’t know about you, but that makes me very nervous. Stand by and we’ll see where this one goes.

Further info:

Read the letter from 10 Members of Congress to Russell Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Fisheries and US Delegate to ICCAT

Read the letter from the Pew Charitable Trusts to ICCAT

Read the Pew document, “The Best Available Science on Western Atlantic Bluefin Tuna”

Read “Response to PEW factsheet on ‘The Best Available Science on Western Atlantic Bluefin Tuna'”

 

“Rip” Cunningham, who got the nickname in infancy when he tore up everything in his crib, has applied the same energy to his work at Salt Water Sportsman. An accomplished writer and photographer, Cunningham has received several awards from the Outdoor Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in such magazines as Field and Stream, Rod and Reel, Gray’s Sporting Journal and Australian Boating. Among his many accomplishments, Rip was recognized as the Conservationist of the Year from both the International Game Fish Association and the Coastal Conservation Association of Massachusetts. “I’ve earned a living from fishing, and I believe strongly that people with an interest in a given area should give something back,” he says. “It’s rewarding every single day.” Cunningham received his MBA from Babson College in Wellesley, MA and his BA from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. He has two grown children and four grand children and lives with his wife and hunting dog, Rocket, in Dover, MA and Yarmouth, ME. When he’s not fishing or working through the items on his wife’s “honey-do” list, Cunningham does some hunting, fishing, and skiing.

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The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

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