In Superman comics, “Bizarro World” is a universe where wrong is right, and Superman’s clone is a villain.  The parallel planet’s name is “Earth” spelled backwards – htraE.

But it’s not just in comic books that you encounter the specter of evil twins and vertigo-inducing inversions.

Today, as we mark Earth Day, 2015 – with California seared by drought – a downside-up federal regulatory regime stalks the San Joaquin Valley, inflicting pain on some of the very species that the federal government has sworn to protect.

This pain takes the form of federally-decreed cutbacks on water.

Over the past six years, federal environmental officials have ordered sharp curtailment in the operation of the state and federal water projects.  They’ve staunched the flow of water to the agricultural heartland of the San Joaquin Valley, and to tens of millions of urban water users in Southern California.

“Species protection” is the regulators’ rationale for powering down the pumps.  They believe they are doing right by smelt and salmon in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, both of which are on the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) list.

That belief is debatable, to put it mildly. The smelt population continues to evaporate; the most recent sampling of 40 sites in the Delta turned up just one live specimen of the two-inch fish.

But let’s stipulate, for the moment, that sharp limits on water pumping have, in fact, helped the two fish species.   What about other species in Central California that are also “threatened” or “endangered” on the ESA list?   How’s that “No water for you!” policy working out for them?

ESA water cutoffs are bad for children and other living things – like ESA-listed species

Let’s be clear: Government can’t impede the water-delivery systems that were built to make the San Joaquin Valley bloom – and confine the destructiveimpact, the “browning” of the environment, to farms, businesses, and households.  That water is needed by non-human species too!

Federal officials recently took High Speed Rail officials to task because some work was reportedly done, without permission, on parcels in Fresno where the ESA-listed Kit Fox might be found.  Whatever you think of High Speed Rail, this federal scolding should have come with an irony – or chutzpah – alert: The feds have never shown similar concern about the effects that their own water reductions could have on Kit Fox habitat!

Here’s a list of some of the more well-known Central Valley species to which the federal government has extended the “protection” of the ESA.   Unfortunately for them (and/or their prey), they aren’t protected from the water cutbacks ordered by their “protectors.”

California Tiger Salamander
California Condor
Buena Vista Lake Shrew
Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp
Vernal Pool Tadpole Shrimp
Conservancy Fairy Shrimp
California Red Legged Frog
San Joaquin Kit Fox
Southwestern Willow Fly Catcher

Right now, Pacific Legal Foundation is working to develop a legal challenge to the government’s myopic approach to ESA regulations.  When they’re drafting strategies for a particular species – such as the smelt – officials don’t consider, in any systematic way, the consequences for other at-risk animals and plants.

Writing rules in a vacuum is not just wrongheaded – it’s wrong as a matter of law.  The ESA’s own language says policies must be “prudent” and “reasonable”; rightly interpreted, that means they should reflect a big-picture perspective, balancing the interests of all affected species, and the human environment as well.

To be ecologically credible, ESA enforcement can’t sacrifice some protected species on the altar of others.   Environmental policy needs to be just what we’re not seeing in the San Joaquin Valley – integrated, coherent and smart.