Calif. judge gives federal government three more
months on new rules to protect endangered fish
By John Ellis,
McClatchy Newspapers 2/23/09
A judge in
California on Monday gave the federal government three more months
to finish a new set of rules to protect endangered winter-run
Chinook salmon, spring-run Chinook salmon and Central Valley
Environmentalists didn't object to the extension, though they did
express concern that three more months would pass with the fish
species - who they said are struggling for survival - being
managed under a plan that U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger has
already said is flawed.
They also reserved the right to change their minds and seek
additional court action if necessary.
Increasingly pessimistic farmers and ranchers on California's
central San Joaquin Valley's west side figured Monday's delay
means another three months of waiting for another hit to their
dwindling water supplies.
"It almost doesn't make a difference to us one way or the other,"
said Sarah Woolf, a spokeswoman for the Westlands Water District,
which is the second-largest consumer of water from the
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Wanger agreed to the request by the federal government during a
hearing - in which all the attorneys participated by telephone -
because both sides said more time is needed to get the management
The winter-run and spring-run Chinook salmon spawn mainly on the
Sacramento River and some of its Northern California tributaries.
That river system is key to the federal Central Valley Project.
Michael Sherwood, an attorney for the environmental group
Earthjustice, said the situation is changing daily, but for the
salmon that spawn on the Sacramento River, "it's going to be a bad
That Sacramento River water flows into the delta, where some of
its water is then pumped out and sent south to users such as
Westlands, as well as commercial and residential users in the Bay
Area and Southern California.
Last summer, Wanger ruled that the three fish species were at risk
of extinction and that the state and federal water project
operations were further jeopardizing their survival. He found that
the rules managing the fish violated the federal Endangered
Species Act because they didn't adequately protect the species.
Since then, the National Marine Fisheries Service has been
reworking those rules.
Already, a similar rewrite of fish-management rules by the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service for the endangered delta smelt has
reduced water deliveries to Westlands and other users. The state's
drought has also contributed to the region's water woes.
Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said west Valley farmers
will receive no federal water this season.
Others are feeling the pinch, too: Contra Costa Water District's
500,000 customers likely will face mandatory water rationing in
the coming months, and cities from the Bay Area to San Diego are
expected to impose mandatory water rationing soon.
The upcoming rewrite of the salmon rules is widely expected to
make things even harder on those who depend on the state's
intricately woven water system.
The rewritten rules covering the salmon and steelhead species will
likely make it even harder to get any federal water at all, said
Woolf of Westlands.
"Zero is zero," she said. "They can't take any more away."