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Water Agencies Challenge Fish & Game on Water Limits

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Four California water agencies sued the California Fish and Game Commission, challenging its plan reduce the amount of water the state's two largest water projects are allowed to divert from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to help the longfin smelt. The water diversion will hurt people and won't help the fish, the plaintiffs say.

The agencies called the Commission's November 2008 Emergency Take Regulation, which would reduce the project's water supplies by 1.1 million acre-feet, a "scientifically unsupported" and "ill-conceived attempt to stem the decline of longfin smelt" that "threatens the health and welfare of millions of Californians."

The agencies say they already struggle to provide water to two-thirds of California's population and irrigate most of the state. They say the commission shouldn't take more water from already depleted reservoirs during a severe drought.

The amount the commission is planning to restrict, 1.1 million acre feet, would cover 1.1 million acres one foot deep.

The agencies say all that water would not help the smelt very much. "It will likely protect fewer than 50, and at most no more than 250 fish - less than 0.02 % of the longfin smelt population residing in the Delta," the lawsuit states. Plaintiffs say that's because most of the smelt live too far from the projects' pumps to be affected. Smelt are listed as a "candidate species," the first step toward threatened or endangered status.

Finally, the agencies say the plan fails to account for other drains of smelt habitat water besides the two state water projects. There at least 1,800 places where Delta water is drained for agricultural use, but the commission allegedly fails to regulate them. The agencies say those diversions are mostly unscreened, causing even greater damage to the smelt population.

California's State Water Contractors, Kern County Water Agency, San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority and Westlands Water District filed three Superior Court lawsuits saying the Commission and others abused its discretion under the California Endangered Species Act. The agencies want an injunction to stop the plan.

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