Judge: Feds failed to study how delta pumping affects salmon

By Paul Elias
San Francisco, California (AP) 4-08

A federal judge ruled that water regulators failed to consider the effects of global warming and other environmental issues related to the decline of California salmon populations when they approved increased pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger said a 2004 study prepared by federal regulators to support the increased water exports was scientifically inadequate.

“There is no analysis of adverse effect on critical habitat,” Wanger wrote about winter-run chinook salmon.

The judge also ruled that there was a “total failure to address, adequately explain, and analyze the effects of global climate change on the species.”

The study had concluded that more water could be taken from California’s Central Valley to quench residential and agricultural thirsts throughout the state. The new pumping plan was already on hold because of a similar ruling the judge made about the Bush administration’s failure to address its effects on a threatened fish species called the Delta smelt.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the National Marine Fisheries Service, the agencies that prepared the study at issue, plan to submit a new study by the end of the year, said NMFS spokesman Jim Milbury.

“I’m sure they will look at the judge’s opinion in developing it,” he said.

Wanger scheduled a hearing April 25 to begin determining how the delta should be managed until the new study is published.

A group of environmentalists, fishermen and American Indians sued the two federal agencies in 2005.

“This is a historic decision,” said Mike Sherwood, an Earthjustice lawyer who represents the environmentalists. “It may well be the turning point to reverse the decline toward extinction of these fish.”

Scientists have pointed to increased water exports from the delta as one possible cause for an unprecedented decline in the number of chinook salmon returning to spawn in the Sacramento River and its tributaries last fall.

Earlier this month, federal fishery regulators voted to ban salmon fishing along the California coast and most of Oregon to protect California’s shrinking salmon stocks.