For the second time in a year, a federal judge has tossed out a key permit governing Delta water deliveries.
The permit was meant to prevent salmon runs and other fish from going extinct. Last year, U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger also tossed a similar permit meant to protect Delta smelt.
In 2007 and 2008, Wanger ordered previous permits rewritten, saying they were too lenient. But in ruling last December and on Tuesday, Wanger ruled the resulting permits are too costly to water users.
Late last week, Wanger excoriated a pair of federal biologists for, he said, intentionally misleading him in a related case having to do with the needs of Delta smelt late in the year.
He was also critical in Tuesday's ruling.
"Some of (the National Marine Fisheries Service's) analyses rely upon equivocal or bad science to impose (restrictions) without clearly explaining or otherwise demonstrating why the specific measures imposed are essential" to protect salmon, steelhead and green sturgeon, Wanger wrote.
Judge throws out parts of salmon,
U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger invalidated parts of the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service's so-called biological opinion, calling the plan "arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful."
Wanger still held that pumping operations negatively impact the fish and adversely modify their critical habitat, but his decision means the agency will rewrite its plan again.
In the 279-page decision, Wanger wrote that some of the agency's analyses relied on "equivocal or bad science" and didn't clearly demonstrate why the measures it imposed were essential.
Wanger threw out the previous salmon and steelhead management plan in 2008, which led the government to release the new proposal a year later. California water agencies immediately challenged it in court, saying it would limit the amount of water pumped to farmers and Southern California residents.
Water agencies hailed the latest ruling as a victory, saying it means more water can be pumped for urban and rural water users.
Environmentalists said the judge was simply tweaking technical aspects of the plan involving when pumping can and cannot occur, but the underlying ruling that pumping endangers the fish remained unchanged.
Fall-run chinook salmon populations returning to the Central Valley to spawn have declined over the past seven years. About 66,000 salmon adults returned to the Sacramento River in 2008, down from more than 750,000 adult salmon in 2002.