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Central Valley Irrigation Fight Dries Up in the 9th

(CN) - Farmers in California's Central Valley do not have an unqualified right to all the irrigation water they want, the 9th Circuit ruled Friday.

The San Luis Unit Food Producers and several farmers accused the Bureau of Reclamation of having lately favored the protection and restoration of fish and wildlife over their irrigation needs in its operation of the San Luis Unit of the Central Valley Project (CVP).

They sued the agency under the Administrative Procedure Act, arguing that federal statutes require it to provide irrigation districts with 100 percent of their water needs - about 1 million acre-feet in wet years - above all other users.

U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger in Sacramento granted the bureau summary judgment, finding no statute that requires the release of a certain amount of water for irrigation purposes. A three-judge appellate panel affirmed Friday, calling the farmers' claims a "broad, programmatic challenge to the bureau's operation and management of the CVP."

"Although the farmers contend that the CVP is designed to promote irrigation over the protection of fish and wildlife, congress decided otherwise," Judge Stephen Trott wrote for the San Francisco-based panel.

Meeting the obligations of the Federal Endangered Species Act is a part of the agency's mission, according to the ruling.

"That is a mandatory goal," Trott added. "The decision of how to achieve it, however, is the bureau's. None of the statutes identified by the farmers require that the bureau deliver the farmers' preferred amount of water to its irrigation contractors. For this reason, the farmers' APA claims fail for lack of subject matter jurisdiction."

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