Tags: Supreme Court | California | farmers | decision

Farmers: Supreme Court Water Decision Protects Fish, Hurts Californians

By    |   Tuesday, 13 Jan 2015 05:04 PM

Environmentalists are pleased and California farmers battling drought are disappointed over the Supreme Court's refusal to hear a legal challenge to federal regulations protecting the Delta smelt regulations the latter claim are destroying their livelihoods and depriving Californians of badly needed water supplies.

The high court's decision on Monday means that controversial rules to protect the 3-inch-long smelt under the federal Endangered Species Act will remain in place.

Katherine Poole, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, praised the court's decision, saying the fish's decline is an indication of the poor health of the massive estuary.

A healthy delta benefits farmers and the millions who rely on it for drinking water, she added.

To farmers who have been fighting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for years, those regulations are depriving them of their livelihoods while doing little to save the fish.

Since 2008, that agency has ordered the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project which transport water from Northern California to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California to dramatically reduce the pumping of water.

"This hasn't demonstrably helped the fish," says the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a free-market-oriented legal group representing the farmers. "But it has definitely hurt the economy. From the outset, hundreds of thousands of acres of San Joaquin Valley farmland were fallowed.Consumers in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties saw water rates rise 17 percent or more."

When drought occurred, its harshness was worsened by the smelt regulations. Reservoirs contained less water because large volumes were being diverted to the sea in order to protect the smelt. Officials ordered reductions in water pumping without considering its damaging effect on the economy, the PLF contends.

In striking down the blueprint for the pumping regulations, a federal judge said it was filled with "sloppy science" and "prescriptions that ignore California's water needs."

Reviewing that decision last year, a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel agreed that the regulations, which affected water supplies to millions of consumers in Southern and Central California were drafted in a "chaotic" way. But it nevertheless reversed the trial court on a 2-1 vote, thereby upholding the water cutbacks.

The panel majority held that the Endangered Species Act gives the smelt "the highest of priorities," even if it requires the sacrifice of "many millions of dollars in public funds."

In asking the Supreme Court to take the case, the PLF argued that "while farms and businesses are starved of water, more than 81 billion gallons of water have been allowed to flow out to the ocean off-limits to human use or consumption."

That amount is enough "to put 85,000 acres of farmland back into production," the PLF argued. "In the Central Valley, California's agricultural heartland, water rationing is a prospect."

"I'd like to see a little more common sense," said Jim Jasper, a Newman, California farmer whose appeal was denied by the Supreme Court. "Agriculture has been overlooked."

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Environmentalists are pleased and California farmers battling drought are disappointed over the Supreme Court's refusal to hear a legal challenge to federal regulations protecting the Delta smelt.
Supreme Court, California, farmers, decision
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2015-04-13
Tuesday, 13 Jan 2015 05:04 PM
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