February 5, 2010

Federal court orders more water for San Joaquin Valley

By Federal court orders more water for San Joaquin Valley

Author: Brandon Middleton

In a major ruling, a federal court in Fresno has ordered the federal government to stop depriving the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California of water under the June 2009 National Marine Fisheries Service salmon biological opinion. Water is desperately needed in these parts of California, but even though the Golden State has received a substantial amount of precipitation over the past month, the salmon biological opinion has prevented water from getting to where it's needed most.

Under today's decision, however, federal agencies will not be able to implement a significant component of the biological opinion for at least the next 14 days, meaning that much more water will be able to be pumped to California water projects.

Although the harm from the federal government's "fish before people" policy has been clear to many, some have contended that environmental restrictions aren't that big of a deal. Today's decision, however, should put to rest the notion that the man-made, regulatory drought is anything but real:

It is undisputed that every acre-foot of pumping that is foregone during this time of year is an acre-foot that does not reach the San Luis Reservoir where it can be stored for future delivery to users during times of peak demand later in the water year.

It is recognized that reduced deliveries caused by the 2009 Salmonid BiOp make up only a portion (the parties disagree as to the magnitude) of overall delivery reductions, to which severely dry hydrologic conditions and other legal constraints have and will continue to contribute. However, it is also undisputed that any lost pumping capacity directly attributable to the 2009 Salmonid BiOp will contribute to and exacerbate the currently catastrophic situation faced by Plaintiffs, whose farms, businesses, water service areas, and impacted cities and counties, are dependent, some exclusively, upon CVP and/or SWP water deliveries. The impacts overall of reduced deliveries include irretrievable resource losses (permanent crops, fallowed lands, destruction of family and entity farming businesses); social disruption and dislocation; as well as environmental harms caused by, among other things, increased groundwater consumption and overdraft, and possible air quality reduction.

It's worth mentioning again, as there are those who claim that there isn't a problem beyond the slow economy and natural water shortages: the Endangered Species Act has exacerbated the catastrophe faced by those who depend on water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Fortunately, today's decision offers a reprieve for these victims of the Endangered Species Act. Although the decision is temporary and will be in place for only 14 days, it immediately results in more water flows and can be renewed after the two-week period if the court so decides. It is a big step in the right direction.

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