Fish or People? Water Group Asks

SACRAMENTO (CN) – A California water association says the National Marine Fisheries Service will waste water trying to protect threatened and endangered species in the San Francisco Bay Delta. State Water Contractors challenged a biological opinion the NMFS issued in June, which determined that California water projects jeopardize four fish species and killer whales.

     The biological opinion allows allocation of 330,000 acre-feet from Bay Delta for winter-run Chinook salmon, spring-run Chinook, Central Valley steelhead trout, green sturgeon and killer whale.
     This, on top of the 430,000 acre-feet of water reserved for the Delta smelt, will force the contractors “to endure numerous water supply cutbacks in a failed attempt to boost fish populations,” the group says.
     State Water Contractors represented 27 California public agencies. It claims the biological opinion “cherry picks” data to support its conclusions, without adequate evidence that the extra water will actually help the species.
     The biological opinion – reissued after environmentalists successfully challenged a 2004 biological opinion in court – has incomplete data, reaches contradictory conclusions, uses speculation and ignores numeric information, State Water Contractors claims.
     California is in its third year of drought, and the water deliverers – which serve 25 million residents and 750,000 acres of agricultural land from Southern California to the Central Valley and Bay Area – say reservoir levels are “far below average.”
     In addition to violating federal environmental law, allocating water for the threatened and endangered species threatens to result in the “the unreasonable use and waste of water” in violation of the California constitution, the contractors say.
     State Water Contractors, represented by Gregory Wilkinson of Best Best & Krieger in Riverside, asks the court to send the biological opinion back to the drawing board – and be allowed to carry on with their projects in the meantime.
     The San Francisco-San Joaquin Bay Delta is the largest estuary on the West Coast.

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