High court upholds Delta Smelt protection

Valley farmers say hope is gone after a high court ruling continues limits on water allocations.
March 13, 2014 3:45:08 PM PDT
Valley farmers say hope is gone after a high court ruling continues limits on water allocations.

Farmers on the Valley's west-side, like those in the Westlands Water District, are angry over the federal appeals court decision to limit water flow to the valley in order to protect a small fish species, Smelt, in the Delta.

The war over water flow just hit a new critical point. Restrictions on pumping to valley farmers will hold firm.

"The Ninth Circuit court has taken away the little hope that the farmers had," said Mario Santoyo. He's a grower with the California Latino Water Coalition, just one of many ag groups fighting for water to protect the valley's number one industry.

"It appears that the higher courts are under the belief that the fish outweigh the priority of people," Santoyo said.

Water from the San Joaquin Delta is usually pumped south to provide for west side farmers. But shrinking wildlife populations in the Delta have led to the pumping restrictions.

"Protecting the delta smelt is a sort of surrogate for protecting all of those species and then protecting fishing and farming in the delta and beyond that rely on a healthy delta," said Trent Orr, an attorney with Bay Area environmental group Earthjustice. He says Delta farmers also get protection with these restrictions.

"The more water that's taken out of the system and shipped elsewhere in the state, and the lower the flow is in the delta, the more salt water from the bay and the ocean, intrude into the delta," Orr said.

In January, House Speaker John Boehner, speaking at a fallow Bakersfield farm, criticized Delta pumping restrictions for protecting fish over farms.

Republican Congressman Devin Nunes was also part of Speaker Boehner's criticism. In a statement to Action News he said of the ruling, "This is yet another senseless ruling subordinating the needs of struggling farmers, families, and communities to those of a three-inch baitfish. To approve these devastating regulations amid the current water crisis is an act bordering on clinical insanity."

Westlands Water District is now considering further appeals.