Judge condemns U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's junk science

The notorious U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its new Natural Resources Defense Council science adviser, which in the name of protecting a tiny bait fish (the delta smelt) is responsible for cutting off water to California farmers, resulting in staggering unemployment in the agricultural sector, has been dealt a serious blow by a federal district court judge in California:

“Tuesday, a federal judge’s opinion struck a blow against one-sided delta policies that have tilted back and forth over the decades, more recently in favor of concern for fish teetering on the brink of extinction and at the expense of municipal and agricultural water users. U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger, waist-deep in the state’s long-running courtroom battle over delta water, ruled that [water] export restrictions primarily meant to protect the endangered delta smelt were based on “sloppy science” and “uni-directional prescriptions that ignore California’s water needs.”  “Delta ruling doesn’t mean much — yet

“”The 2008 (biological opinion findings) are arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful, and are remanded to Fish & Wildlife for further consideration in accordance with this decision and the requirements of law,” Wanger wrote.  …

“With the economy struggling and unemployment still soaring, it is welcome to see a judge refusing to rubber stamp extreme, destructive and unjustified environmental regulations,” said Damien Schiff, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented three farmers who say water cutbacks harmed their businesses.”  “Federal Judge Orders Rewrite of Delta Smelt Plan

“Mr. Schiff said the science “should have been sterling” to justify reducing water to farmers. “It wasn’t even mediocre. That is illegal.”

“The court cannot maintain the status quo because it would be in effect allowing … sloppy science to rule the day,” Mr. Schiff said …”  “California water, here it comes?

“”Despite the harm visited on California water users, (the Fish and Wildlife Service) has failed to provide lawful explanations for the apparent over-appropriation of project water supplies for species protection,” Wanger wrote.  …

Tuesday’s ruling dates back to a 2005 Fish and Wildlife Service plan for managing a dwindling delta smelt population. That first biological opinion concluded that the pumps in the south delta near Tracy posed no threat to the species. The Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups disagreed and filed suit later that year.

In 2007, Wanger sided with them, invalidating the opinion and ordering the agency to rewrite it.

The next year, the Fish and Wildlife Service reversed itself entirely and declared the pumps “likely to jeopardize” the federally protected smelt. That set the stage for 15 percent to 40 percent water cutbacks from the delta at the same time California was in the grip of a nasty dry spell. As tens of thousands of acres lay fallow in 2008 and 2009 [and 2010], Central Valley farmers and conservative commentators took to calling the situation a “Congress-created California dust bowl.”

In 2008, it was the farmers’ and urban water districts’ turn to file suit against the Fish and Wildlife Service. Tuesday’s decision was the culmination of those combined lawsuits.”  “U.S. agency’s smelt plan ‘arbitrary,’ judges rules

“The ruling is a “step closer to accomplishing California’s coequal goals of restoring the Delta environment and ensuring that the public will have an adequate and reliable water supply,” said Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District.”  “Federal judge finds major flaws in smelt plan

Judge Wanger issued a similar opinion in a different case in May.

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