FRESNO, Calif. (CN) - A federal judge ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday to rewrite its plan for protecting the endangered delta smelt, citing scientific flaws.
In a massive 225-page ruling - the latest in a five-year dispute over water rights in the state's agricultural heartland - U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger said the agency "acted arbitrarily and capriciously" and did not "use the best science available" in restricting water flow to the Central Valley in its effort to shield smelt populations.
The agency claimed the smelt's food supply and habitat was threatened by the Central Valley Water Project, a federal project led by the Bureau of Reclamation to provide irrigation and drinking water to the drought-plagued San Joaquin Valley.
Local water authorities sued the Fish and Wildlife Service in March 2009, claiming that pumping restrictions would destroy orchards and bankrupt farmers.
"It cannot be disputed that the law entitles the delta smelt to ESA protection," Wanger wrote, referring to the Endangered Species Act. "It is equally significant that despite the harm visited on California water users, FWS has failed to provide lawful explanations for the apparent overappropriation of project water supplies for species protection. In view of the legislative failure to provide the means to assure an adequate water supply for both the humans and the species dependent on the Delta, the public cannot afford sloppy science and uni-directional prescriptions that ignore California's water needs."