Fresno judge issues Delta Smelt ruling, farmers win again

FRESNO, Calif.

The ruling questions actions taken in response to a biological opinion regarding Delta Smelt. Judge Oliver Wanger says before deciding on water allocations for west side farmers ... both sides need to find a way to protect fish and farmers who have struggled without water for years.

For the second time this week, west side farmers are breathing a sigh of relief. Just two days after Judge Oliver Wanger decided the delta pumps that supply water to the Westland's Water District can stay on an additional three weeks ... he has once again, made another groundbreaking ruling.

In federal court Thursday, Judge Wanger ruled the impact of Delta Smelt does not outweigh the needs of farmers.

Action News legal analyst Tony Capozzi says Thursday's ruling will set a precedent. "Very huge. It's one of the first in the country of cases dealing with this issue and taking the side of the human effect and how it deals with the everyday lives of people."

Pumping restrictions from the San Joaquin Delta have been in place for the last three years to protect the Delta Smelt. Judge Wanger's decision could at some point mean farmers will now receive enough water to again plant crops in fields that have remained fallow because of these restrictions.

Sarah Woolf of the Westland's Water District says it's a major victory. "It's been a long time coming, a lot of pain and suffering has occurred, but this is wonderful news."

While Thursday's ruling favors farmers ... it hasn't been decided exactly how much water they'll get. Several future hearings are expected. Judge Wanger says both sides need to find a way to protect fish and people at the same time.

Capozzi said, "What the court is saying here is that the agencies have not properly considered all of the factors."

"I don't think we know what that balance will be yet, but we will have a little more flexibility on when we can run the pumps and when we can turn them off to try and protect species," said Woolf.

Another hearing is planned on the issue Friday morning. We were unable to contact any environmentalists Thursday night. But, earlier this week, they said they were disappointed with the judge's ruling on Tuesday and are weighing their legal options.

Legal analysts say this case could wind up in the United States Supreme Court.

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