Endangered species and the question of federal discretion

Simply put, no environmental law has had as much impact on western rivers–or created as much controversy–as section 7 of the ESA.

Reed Benson

I’m on record as arguing that the Endangered Species Act is a terrible water management tool, while simultaneously being not terribly effective as an environmental tool. But you manage water and environmental values with the tools you have, not the ones you might wish to have. So the screw has a Phillips head and all you’ve got in your pocket is a regular screwdriver. Reed Benson, quoted above, is more clever than I am about how to use the tools already in your pocket.

In this case, he’s writing about the recent decision in NRDC v. Jewell (pdf), regarding Central Valley Project water delivery contract renewals, and the question of where the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s “discretion” might lie:

For most projects, the question will be whether Reclamation has enough discretion in operations–that is, in storing and releasing water for irrigation and/or other purposes–that it can make changes for the benefit of listed species affected by those operations.

Discretion remains murky, but Reed’s arguing that the USBR has more of it than we might think.