habitat. The NMFS RPA, divided into five actions with a total of 72 subsidiary actions, applies to the requirements of Chinook salmon, steelhead, and green sturgeon in the delta and farther upstream. In addition to its focus on flow regimes and passage, it includes purchasing water to enhance in-stream flow, habitat restoration, a new study of acoustic-tagged steelhead, and development of hatchery genetics management plans. This committee did not evaluate all 78 actions and subsidiary actions in the two RPAs in detail. It spent most of its time on the elements of the RPAs that have the greatest potential to affect water diversions. It also spent time on elements whose scientific justifications appear to raise some questions.
Protecting all the listed species, as required by the ESA, while simultaneously trying to minimize impacts on existing and projected uses of the region’s water, is a serious challenge. In addition, many anthropogenic and other factors, including pollutants; introduced species; and engineered structures such as dams, canals, levees, gates, and pumps adversely affect the fishes in the region, but they are not under the direct control of the CVP or the SWP, and thus are not subjects of the biological opinions.
The complexity of the problem of the decline of the listed species and the difficulty of identifying viable solutions have led to disagreements, including concerns that some of the actions in the RPAs might be ineffective and might cause harm and economic disruptions to water users, and that some of the actions specified in the RPAs to help one or more of the listed species might harm others. In addition, some have suggested that the agencies might be able to meet their legal obligation to protect species with less economic disruptions to other water users. Those concerns led the Department of the Interior and Congress to ask for advice from the National Research Council (NRC), which appointed a special committee of experts to carry out this study.
The committee’s charge includes the following tasks (the full statement of task is in Appendix A).
The committee was asked to undertake two main projects over a term of two years resulting in two reports. The first report, prepared on a very short timeline, was to address scientific questions, assumptions, and conclusions underlying water-management alternatives (i.e., the RPAs) in the two biological opinions mentioned above, and this is where the committee focused most of its attention. In addition, three specific issues were to be addressed. First, are there any “reasonable and prudent alternatives” (RPAs) that, based on the best avail-