December 3, 2008

new Sacramento-San Joaquin delta lawsuit

By new Sacramento-San Joaquin delta lawsuit

Readers of this blog may be aware of some of the Endangered Species Act issues revolving around management of the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta. See, for instance, PLF on ESA's post last month on the delta smelt litigation.

Now comes word, via LA Times' Greenspace, that even more litigation will further threaten the ability of farmers and water districts to receive an adequate supply of water from the delta:

In a complaint filed Monday in Sacramento County Superior court, two small but dogged environmental groups are taking aim not just at the pumping, but at agribusiness that uses water from the delta on the western side of the San Joaquin Valley.

The suit argues that irrigation of several hundred thousand acres of west-side land should cease because it violates the state's constitutional mandate that water be used in a beneficial manner. The land has a high water table and drains poorly, promoting the buildup of toxic elements such as selenium and boron that contaminate farm runoff and make their way into the San Joaquin River and eventually the delta.

The complaint, filed against state and federal agencies by the California Water Impact Network and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, also seeks to curb delta pumping to protect dwindling populations of several species of fish that swim in the delta.

Pumping has already been cut as a result of rulings filed in another environmental case dealing with the tiny delta smelt, which is found only in the delta and is nearing extinction.

Southern California water agencies say the cutbacks, coupled with a parched spring this year, may soon force them to ration water deliveries.

More coverage is available at the San Francisco Chronicle and the Stockton Record. The complaint is available here.

Relatedly, NRDC's Doug Obegi today chastised the San Diego Union Tribunefor "perpetuat[ing] a superficial theory that California can only protect water or fish" in a recent editorial on delta water policy. The whole point of the editorial, however, was to advocate for a greater recognition of "the dual duty" to protect both humans and fish.

If you're looking for perpetuation, look no further than Obegi's own analysis, which is another simple solution to solve an incredibly complex problem.  Reading his post, one would think the only problem for the delta smelt is the region's water pumps, and if we just got rid (or at least severely restricted) the pumps, the troubles for the smelt would be over.

But, as a 2008 CALFED report indicates, it's not that simple. Not only is there "no conclusive evidence that export pumping has caused population declines," but reversing the decline of the delta smelt is "particularly difficult":

Delta smelt is unresponsive to freshwater flow, and few of the likely contributing factors (for example, low food supply, declining turbidity, abundant predatory fish) are very responsive to human control. Export pumping, although blamed for many of the Delta’s ills, is only one of several potentially harmful factors.

The idea that there is an "obvious solution" to this situation, as Obegi contends, is wishful thinking.

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