Water ruling: people matter as much as fish

FRESNO, Calif. The judge said the federal government didn't do a good enough job at considering farmer's water needs while trying to protect threatened salmon.

Sitting side by side US congressman Jim Costa and Westland's water district general manager Tom Birmingham claimed victory in the fight for more water in central California.

"Many of us who have been fighting water for our valley felt that biological opinions on Salmon and Smelt were flawed," Jim Costa said.

In a federal courtroom on Tuesday Judge Oliver Wanger ruled that people mattered as much as fish.

He says federal agencies didn't follow the correct guidelines when placing salmon on the endangered species list.

"This decision is just one more indication that the federal agencies are going to have to modify the way in which they're implementing the endangered species act," Tom Birmingham said.

The ruling deals a blow to environmental groups and fisherman who believe restrictions on water pumps need to be in place in order to save threatened fish species.

"We're disappointed because this is different than an earlier decision he made where he acknowledged that there are fishing jobs and that fish are food. That we have fishing communities and that they're being hurt in the past by some of the pumping that's taken place," Zeke Grader said.

David Wood is a farmer at Harris Ranch and says more than half of the farm land on the entire west side has been idled because of the water crisis.

The judge's decision doesn't include the smelt, but Wood says the salmon is a good place to start.

"Sound science was lacking. I think for all agriculture and the San Joaquin Valley this is a very positive decision," David Wood said.

While Tuesday's ruling favors the farmers west of the San Joaquin Valley, it's still not known exactly how much water they'll be getting from the pumps.

A hearing will take place at the federal courthouse Wednesday.

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