SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- Threatened sucker fish rely on the few patches of water in the Santa Ana River to stay alive, but environmentalists are saying that a local wastewater treatment plant is violating federal law.
The Water Reclamation Authority say they have to shut down the flow of treated water into the river for maintenance, as it is regulated to do, but conservation groups say when they do that, it kills off a federally protected fish.
"It relies, especially during this time of the year, on the outflow from this water treatment plant that the cities operate, and sometimes, the cities shut down the water, and the river goes dry, and of course that causes this fish then to be stranded, and there's been mortalities of this fish because of that action," said Ileene Anderson with the Center for Biological Diversity.
Environmental groups plan to sue the operators of the Water Reclamation Authority, City of San Bernardino and City of Colton for shutting off the water, and for what they claim violates the federal Endangered Species Act.
When the water does get shut off, volunteers come and rescue as many sucker fish as they can and move them to other areas.
"The fish end up getting stranded on either in pools that go dry or on the banks ... and we need to go down the river, pick them up, put them in water with air and go relocate them to suitable areas in the stream that has water," Heather Dyer from the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District told the L.A. Times.
The Water Reclamation Authority released a written statement to Eyewitness News stating, "Based on what we have read, we are both surprised and disappointed with the allegations made against the Authority. We have been working for 16 years with the United States Fish and Wildlife Services, voluntarily and at great expense to the ratepayers, to do the right things for the Santa Ana Sucker."
If nothing is worked out over the next 60 days, it could be up to a federal judge to decide how to protect the fish.
Environmentalists to sue over killing of Santa Ana sucker fish