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Delta Smelt Final Judgement

Spring is finally upon us and farmers are busy planting their crops. The abundant rainfall has made for a furious planting season. Irrigation water allocations are the best the Central Valley has seen in many years and we hope for an abundant harvest as well.

Unfortunately, the issues surrounding water deliveries have not gone away. Judge Wanger, in Fresno, has been the presiding Judge on the delta smelt biological opinion case. Water users and fishing interests have been watching this case closely and Judge Wanger has just issued his final decision.

First, in December 2010, Judge Wanger issued a 225-page ruling that stated portions of the biological opinion (BO) violated the law. In the decision Wanger said that while the pumping at the state and federal facilities may harm the delta smelt, the restrictions placed on pumping were not justified and that US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) did not follow their own regulations.

The cases launched against the FWS 2008 BO for delta smelt sought to fight the pumping restrictions. The BO led to massive water cutbacks, at state and federal pumping facilities, making it very challenging to pump water south, not only to grow crops, but for municipal purposes as well.

Wanger determined the 2008 BO was flawed and failed to take into account the impacts to humans. His final judgment released in March 2011, is a short document that illustrates what federal agencies must do to fix the flawed BO. The document also summarizes Wanger’s earlier ruling that the Bureau of Reclamation violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by not considering impacts to the human environment.

Wanger set deadlines for federal agencies to adhere to. The final NEPA document is due December 15, 2011, just two months after the new BO is completed. Until these new environmental documents are complete, a settlement agreement will be in effect.

While the federal government and environmental groups may appeal the ruling on the BO, it is too soon to tell if that would have any significant impact on the case.

Family Water Alliance will continue to follow the delta smelt proceeding as it sets strict guidelines for water deliveries from north to south. These restrictions has renewed interest in the peripheral canal debate. ■

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