[env-trinity] Fresno Bee 3 31 10
bwl3 at comcast.net
Thu Apr 1 10:08:58 PDT 2010
Federal ruling slows delta pumping
By John Ellis
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta pumps will be ratcheted back today after a
federal judge in Fresno rejected a request to keep them operating
temporarily at current levels.
Wednesday's ruling by U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger means that for
the next two months, both the federal and state water pumps will move much
less water to users, including the Westlands Water District and the
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
It's the latest loss for farmers and other water users in the decades-long
battle over moving water through the state. That battle continues today when
water users and environmentalists square off in Wanger's court in what
promises to be a pivotal case.
The seasonal cutbacks that Wednesday's ruling allows are part of a
controversial management plan for endangered spring-run Chinook salmon and
Central Valley steelhead. Authorities say the pumps endanger juvenile fish
heading out to the Pacific Ocean.
"I am disappointed in the court's ruling, but I understand the basis for
it," said Westlands general manager Tom Birmingham, who personally argued
Wanger found that the National Marine Fisheries Service "touched all the
bases" in putting together a management plan -- known as a biological
opinion -- for the salmon and steelhead, Birmingham said.
Therefore, Wanger wouldn't agree to the request by users to keep the water
flowing. Instead, today's cutbacks will happen as planned.
Kate Poole, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said
there have been mountains of testimony on the issue, and the federal
government and its environmental allies continue to prevail.
At this point, she said, both sides should "work to focus on solutions
rather than rehash arguments."
Wanger's ruling, however, was just the opening chapter in what is likely a
climactic battle over the management plans for not only salmon and
steelhead, but the threatened delta smelt as well.
Water users want both management plans invalidated, claiming they are flawed
and were put together without using the best available science. They also
claim the plans don't take into account the effect on the environment,
The next phase, which starts today, involves water users seeking an
injunction on the management plans for the smelt and salmon. The injunction
is closer to a permanent legal ruling than the temporary order Wanger ruled
Because part of the next-phase ruling will involve the likelihood of success
at a future trial, Wanger's decision on the injunction will likely send a
strong signal to both sides how the cases will ultimately end.
Wanger has set aside a week's worth of court days to hear arguments, which
will likely be low on drama and high on technical analysis and expert
opinion from seasoned biologists. A decision is expected in the latter part
of next week.
Beyond that, one more series of hearings on the smelt this spring and one on
the salmon this fall likely will decide once and for all -- barring appeal
to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- whether agricultural and urban
water users will be able to derail the current management plans.
The plans resulted in massive water cutbacks for not only farmers and
ranchers, but urban users as well.
The dispute dates to 2007, when Wanger invalidated a delta smelt management
plan issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because it did not
adequately protect the tiny fish, a violation of the federal Endangered
He followed that up with a similar decision in April 2008, which invalidated
a similar plan for winter-run Chinook salmon, spring-run Chinook salmon and
the Central Valley steelhead.
Wanger ordered both plans to be rewritten.
But agricultural and urban water users said the rewritten plans were flawed.
Multiple agencies filed lawsuits covering both the smelt and salmon plans,
seeking to have them invalidated for, among other things, not using best
available science and not conducting a critical environmental analysis
required under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Wednesday's battle focused on a temporary order to delay today's planned
cutbacks -- a seasonal reduction to protect juvenile spring-run salmon that
is part of the rewritten biological opinion.
Byron Leydecker, JcT
Chair, Friends of Trinity River
PO Box 2327
Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327
415 383 4810 land/fax (call first to fax)
415 519 4810 mobile
<mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net
<mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
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