Balancing Nature, the Needs of People : * Officials Put Heads Together to Save Precious Water, Endangered Bird

Two things that are in short supply these days are water and the least Bell's vireo. Indeed, it seems that everywhere one looks these days, modern governmental bureaucracy is trying to come to grips with the problems associated with scarce resources and rare birds.

That's why an agreement reached last week between the Orange County Water District, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers was so satisfactory. The problem began after heavy rains prompted federal officials to open the gates of Prado Dam in Riverside County and release about 6 billion gallons of storm runoff into the Santa Ana River.

Precious water drained off to the ocean, right in the middle of the drought. Federal officials were trying to avoid soaking the nesting grounds of the least Bell's vireo, a small endangered bird.

An agreement between the various agencies resulted in a sensible solution. Water releases were cut so that storm runoff could be captured to replenish Orange County's underground basin. The water district agreed to set aside 122 acres of willows behind the dam as a new nesting area.

Everybody benefited: the people who wanted to save water and the people who wanted to save the rare birds.

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