Judicial Opinion Threatens Salmon

Last Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger issued an opinion stating that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) protections for salmon in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta do not “take the hard look required to achieve, to the maximum extent possible, the co-equal Reclamation Law objective of providing water service.”

The opinion may presage an unfortunate blow for already-beleaguered California salmon. The protections that provide anadromous fish with the water they need are the best hope for California’s wild salmon runs and the commercial fishermen and communities whose lifestyles and livelihoods depend on them.

The NMFS protections define when, and how much, water can be pumped from the South Delta without driving endangered anadromous fish to extinction. They were recently vetted by a panel from the National Academy of Sciences, who found the protections “scientifically justified.”

In his opinion, Judge Wanger stated that the pumping restrictions had caused “social disruption and dislocation, such as … increased unemployment leading to hunger and homelessness,” and that a temporary injunction might be appropriate if it does not “further jeopardize the species or their habitat.”

This opinion was not a final ruling. The exporters continue to seek an injunction on the federal biological opinions that protect the salmon. The court will continue to hear arguments and make a final ruling. The next hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, May 25th.