U.S. Water News Online
SACRAMENTO -- An environmental group has said it will
appeal a court ruling that could mean more water for California farms
and high-tech industries instead of fish and other wildlife.
But a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said it was
``unclear at this point'' if the Bush administration would join in
``Our attorneys are reviewing it,'' said Jeff McCracken. ``It was
a decision based on the last administration.''
The recent decision by U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger of Fresno
dealt with how much water the Central Valley Project can use for
wildlife protection each year.
For example, federal officials have been following a policy that
says water released to keep reservoir levels low enough to store
winter rains and snow runoff doesn't count toward the 800,000
acre-feet the CVP is required to use annually for wildlife
Wanger disagreed, siding with water districts that argued that
flaws in federal rules resulted in the CVP using up to 300,000
acre-feet more for wildlife protection than the law required.
The judge also said if the CVP alters its delivery of water to
downstream customers to protect wildlife that also counts toward the
800,000 acre-feet, said Barry Nelson, a water policy analyst for the
Natural Resources Defense Council.
Tupper Hull, a spokesman for the huge Westlands Water District,
which supplies water to farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin
Valley, said the ruling ``validates what farmers in the Central
Valley have been saying.''
``The Department of the Interior and Bureau of Reclamation have
been arbitrarily taking water away from farmers, water that's
desperately needed,'' he added.
But Nelson said the judge was ``simply wrong'' and he predicted
that his ruling would be overturned on appeal.
``Very simply what the judge says is that the environment can be
charged for water it never received,'' Nelson said.
He said the NRDC would appeal the decision and that the Interior
Department should too.
He disagreed with McCracken about the ruling affecting only a
Clinton administration interpretation of the law, saying Bush
Interior Secretary Gail Norton supported the policy in her
Nelson also said the ruling could jeopardize reliable water
services for much of the state by undercutting a procedure through
which another 380,000 acre-feet of water is earmarked for endangered
That prevents officials from having to shut down water pumps in
the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta when their use threatens endangered
fish, he said.
Much of that 380,000 acre-feet comes from farmers willing to sell
back extra water, Nelson said.
``If Interior does not appeal this decision it undermines water
supplies for most of the state's urban areas and agriculture in order
to serve a couple of hundred wealthy farmers,'' he said.
Hull said it was unclear how much additional water farmers would
Recently the bureau told farmers to expect not more than 45
percent of the water they'd contracted to buy, he said.
``This ruling is likely to increase that but by something far less
than getting them back to 100 percent.''
McCracken said the ruling, if allowed to stand, could also mean
more water for Silicon Valley companies and other south-of-the-delta
customers served by the Central Valley Project.
The CVP supplies water to more than 3.5 million urban customers
and 20,000 farmers from Redding to Bakersfield.
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