Judge relaxes Delta Salmon rules
Judge relaxes Delta Salmon rules
By Mike Taugher Contra Costa Times
In a win for central and Southern California farmers and cities, a federal judge on Friday suspended salmon protection rules just weeks after they began affecting water deliveries.
The decision, which angered salmon fishermen, means that for at least the next two weeks water agencies serving mostly the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California can run Delta pumps to take full advantage of flows from recent storms without regard to restrictions meant to protect salmon, steelhead and other fish.
“I thought we were on the path to getting those fish back,” said San Francisco fisher Larry Collins, who like other salmon fishers has not been able to fish for
two years. “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger suspended a portion of the permit that limits how hard Delta pumps can run, saying federal water managers did not sufficiently analyze the impact of the new rules.
“The principle the court applied is very clear,” said Dan Nelson, executive director of the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority, which represents San Joaquin Valley farmers. “The judge found that the federal agencies should have considered alternatives that would still adequately protect the fish while causing less harm to people.”
In 2007, Wanger invalidated a pair of key endangered species permits because they were too weak to protect two runs of salmon, steelhead, green sturgeon and Delta smelt.
New federal permits were written that environmentalists and fishers have cheered, but farmers have
blasted as onerous.
The Delta smelt permit was responsible for about 25 percent of the water shortages last year, according to water managers, and the salmon permit had negligible impact on water supplies until two weeks ago.
The temporary order is in force for two weeks but can be renewed. Wanger will consider more permanent remedies later.
But the decision brings two issues to a head.
First, it is unclear whether operations at the state-owned pumps that serve parts of the Bay Area, Kern County and Southern California will comply with the state’s endangered species law. The Department of Water Resources ran its water project outside of that law until it got a certification last year, for the first time, from state regulators that determined the new federal permit met the standards of state law.
It is unclear if the court order affects that determination.
State water officials said they could not address that issue Friday.
Second, some of the environmental groups cooperating with an initiative backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to create a canal or other means to deliver water around the Delta are now discussing the possibility of walking away, which could be a serious blow to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, said one of the participants.
“(Water agencies) that we’re partnering with are out there taking swipes (and) undermining the protections that are in place right now,” said Ann Hayden, a water policy analyst at the Environmental Defense Fund. “What’s the point in continuing in this long-term solution under the BDCP if actions are taken that will directly harm the salmon in the short term?”