Court Decision Could Push California Salmon to the Brink?

This morning, the federal court in Fresno issued a ruling in the litigating challenging the biological opinion protecting endangered salmon and steelhead in California's Bay-Delta.  Judge Wanger found on a preliminary basis that the federal agencies had not strictly adhered to all of the necessary procedures in the biological opinion that protects salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and orcas from the effects of the California water projects (CVP and SWP).  The Court declined to issue the injunction waiving the protections of the biological opinion, finding that no alternative measure had been offered that would adequately protect the species, and has ordered a hearing tomorrow to discuss how to proceed.

The Court recognized that pumping restrictions are necessary to avoid jeopardizing the continued existence of wild California salmon and steelhead.  In its ruling, the Court found that unrestricted pumping (as some of the Plaintiffs had proposed) could cause irreparable harm to California's wild salmon and steelhead, as well as the fishing and tribal communities that depend on healthy salmon runs.  Indeed, the Court recently concluded that "the economic pain and hardship has been no less to the fishing industry that relies on salmon than has been the economic consequence to the Central Valley agricultural community.” 

However, out of the numerous actions and requirements in the nearly 800 page biological opinion, the Court concluded that specific numeric flow restrictions in two of the biological opinion's protective measures were not adequately explained by the agency.  The Court found that it could not conclude if these measures "are adequately protective, too protective, or not protective enough."   The Court ordered a hearing tomorrow (and possibly additional hearings in the future) to determine if some other level of pumping levels would be safe for the species. 

In contrast to the Court's ruling today, numerous peer reviews found that the biological opinion is based on the best available science.  Indeed, the Court’s ruling does not address the recent National Research Council report, which concluded that the biological opinions in the Delta are scientifically justified and that alternative measures would not adequately protect the species.

We are disappointed by today's ruling, which is bad news for anyone who cares about California's wild salmon.  However, we will continue to urge the Court to uphold these protections, as they are critical to protecting California’s wild salmon, the fishing and Tribal communities that depend on them and the health of the Bay-Delta estuary, which supplies drinking water to millions of Californians.