Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 6, 2017

Contact:  Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 654-5943,
Drew Feldmann, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, (909) 881-6081,

Lawsuit Challenges San Bernardino's Plan to Deplete Santa Ana River

Project Would Cut Water Releases by 50 Percent, Hurt Endangered Wildlife, Impair Recreation for People

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.— Two conservation groups filed suit against the city of San Bernardino Municipal Water Department and the city of San Bernardino today challenging a plan to drastically reduce water releases to the Santa Ana River. The largest river in Southern California, the Santa Ana provides recreational opportunities such as hiking, biking, picnicking, boating and fishing to Southern Californians. The water department's proposal would cut off needed water that feeds the river and its riparian ecosystems.

“This project is a bad deal for people and wildlife alike,” said Drew Feldmann, a city of San Bernardino resident and conservation chair of the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society. “At a time when the city's emerging from bankruptcy, it should not be wasting limited resources on this expensive project that will starve our river of water and wreck its riparian ecosystems. The people of San Bernardino should not have to choose between a healthy river and adequate water supplies.”

The project would also drive the highly endangered Santa Ana sucker closer to extinction. The Santa Ana sucker is a small, olive-gray fish that “sucks” up algae and invertebrates from river bottoms; most adult suckers are under 4 inches long and have a lifespan of about 2 years. Suckers used to be common throughout the rivers of Southern California, but urban development has diminished their numbers to just a few remnant populations. The city for years has released treated water from its water plant into the Santa Ana River, which has helped keep the fish alive along several miles of its habitat.

The water department's proposal would permanently limit water releases by up to 17.9 million gallons per day (or 27.7 cubic feet per second), which could reduce flows in the river by more than 50 percent. Although the water department claims it will replace some unspecified amount of this water by groundwater pumping, such severe reductions may render the river uninhabitable for suckers. In the past, when the department has temporarily halted water releases to the river, many suckers either were stranded or perished from anoxia (lack of oxygen).

“The Santa Ana sucker has a right to live and thrive in the Santa Ana River, as it has for thousands of years,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The water department has no business pushing this endangered fish closer to extinction so it can pursue this costly and ill-conceived water project.” 

The lawsuit outlines the department's violations of the California Environmental Quality Act, including inadequate review of the project's impacts on fish, wildlife and water resources. During the environmental review process, the project was criticized by other agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The suit also raises concerns over the project's potential to degrade riparian ecosystems for the endangered San Bernardino kangaroo rat and two songbirds — the southwestern willow flycatcher and least Bell's vireo

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.2 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society is the local chapter of the National Audubon Society for almost all of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, and has about two thousand members in that area. Its missions are the protection of natural habitat for birds and other wildlife, and public education about the environment.

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