Farmers and water agencies in California's Central Valley are applauding yesterday's ruling by a federal judge that water restrictions meant to protect endangered salmon and other species are based on flawed science.
Federal Judge Oliver Wanger issued a preliminary injunction against a management plan by the National Marine Fisheries Service that was used to restrict water exports to protect the fish. Wanger said the federal government had not properly developed the plan or adequately explained how to determine specific pumping levels.
Attoney Brandon Middleton with the Pacific Legal Foundation called Wanger's ruling "an important victory for victims of California's regulatory drought.”
"Judge Wanger recognized that federal regulators had not taken account of how water cutoffs could damage the human environment, and they did not use the best available science,” Middleton said.
Plaintiffs in the case were the San Luis and Delta Mendota Water Authority and the Westlands Water District. Combined, they represent a substantial population of California's water users. They had sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against federal efforts to protect salmon, sturgeon and killer whales,
Those efforts relied on a 2009 biological opinion that advocated restricting water pumping through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to protect endangered species. The Delta is a major source of California's irrigation and drinking water.
Along with pumping restrictions resulting from a similar biological opinion on the smelt, the plans to protect endangered fish have resulted in sharp cutbacks in water deliveries to farmers in the state's Central Valley. The reductions, accompanied by three years of drought, forced hundreds of thousands of acres of crop land to lie fallow, leading to significant economic losses and high unemployment in many farming communities. Reduced surface water deliveries have increased the cost of obtaining groundwater. Unreliable water supplies have also made it more difficult for Central Valley farmers to obtain crop financing.
Judge Wanger was scheduled to hold a hearing today in Fresno, Calif., to determine how much more water pumping must be permitted under yesterday's ruling.
Pacific Legal Foundation is a legal watchdog for property rights, and has been participating in the legal challenges to the Endangered Species Act biological opinions (or "biops") that have triggered the dramatic cuts in water pumping. PLF has been representing some San Joaquin Valley farmers who have been hard-hit by the federally imposed water cutbacks.
Catherine Merlo is Western editor for Dairy Today. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.