An elite science panel's work to clarify California's water problems has become, instead, the latest front in a battle over the Delta's endangered species.
Experts on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta say political meddling prompted the review by the National Academy of Sciences. It risks becoming a "sideshow," they say, that could delay real solutions to California's water woes.
Water agencies, on the other hand, say the review is essential to ensure California is on the right path because the economic stakes are so high.
The panel appointed by the academy, the nation's most esteemed science body, meets for five days starting Sunday at the University of California, Davis. It is charged with examining rules adopted by federal wildlife agencies to protect imperiled Delta fish species.
The panel's recommendations, expected in two phases over 2 1/2 years, carry no legal weight. But they could be the impetus for new regulation, lawsuits, or both.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked for the review in response to requests from San Joaquin Valley farmers, including Stewart Resnick, owner of agriculture giant Paramount Farms. Resnick's Sept. 4 letter to Feinstein asserts that "sloppy science" contributed to the new water and species protections.
Resnick and other major water users in the San Joaquin Valley criticize the fish protections, imposed under the Endangered Species Act. They have sued and mounted public relations battles to avoid giving up water to help fish.
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