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Water ruling favors folks over the fish

Environment: Judge says plan to reduce Delta pumping is illegal

Posted: December 15, 2010 8:48 p.m.
Updated: December 16, 2010 4:30 a.m.

Future demands for water in the Santa Clarita Valley may be easier to meet, thanks to a federal judge’s ruling on an endangered fish that lives in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, officials said Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger said in a 225-page opinion released Tuesday that portions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife guidelines meant to protect the Delta smelt and manage water flowing through the freshwater delta violate the law.

The Castaic Lake Water Agency provides Santa Clarita Valley residents with billions of gallons of water pumped through the Delta.

“Bottom line: this ruling allows water deliveries to continue and possibly increase,” said Dan Masnada, general manager of the Castaic Lake Water Agency.

“We’re happy that the judge recognized the complexity of the situation up there, and basically said this problem doesn’t lie with water exporters,” Masnada said Wednesday.

The opinion covers six cases filed separately by agriculture interests, environmental groups and urban water districts against federal wildlife officials and managers of land and water over plans meant to safeguard the Delta smelt, a dwindling species.

A plan to restrict pumping of Delta water claims pumping reduces the fish’s environment and could lead to its extinction.

But the plan was written using “sloppy science,” ignores California’s water demands and needs to be re-worked, Wagner said.

The judge’s opinion does not dispute that the massive pumps used to deliver water to farms in the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California cities have harmed the silvery smelt, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

But he said parts of the 2008 plan needed to be redone to better determine the pumping restrictions’ economic effects on farmers and other businesses reliant on water deliveries.

Masnada said while water pumps may disrupt the delta smelt habitat, it is only one of several factors that are contributing to the decline in the fish’s population.

Predatory species that are not native to the Delta have helped disrupt the Delta smelt’s food chain, he said.

Federal scientists will conduct more tests to revise their plans on how to protect the Delta smelt. Environmental groups have been adamant that the water pumps are killing the fish.

Like so many other things, it’s not a simple solution; just focusing on the pumps won’t solve the problem, Masnada said.

“This is one battle in a long war.”


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