The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today ruled to uphold a federal plan of protection for California’s vital Delta ecosystem. The court sided with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Earthjustice, The Bay Institute and the federal government in its determination that protections for the threatened delta smelt – a bellwether species that indicates the health of the vital San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary – are fully justified and necessary to restore the health and water quality of this largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas.
Today’s ruling stems from several lawsuits filed in 2008 contesting the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s protections for threatened and endangered fish in the Delta. These protections, described in a 2008 biological opinion, were issued to address the Delta’s ecological collapse, which threatens the regional water supply and health, as well as local fisherman and farmers.
Following is a statement from Kate Poole, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council:
“The court reaffirmed the facts and recognized that science needs to guide our management of the Delta in order for our farms, cities and wildlife to thrive.
“Taking more water out of the Delta is not going to solve our problems. The emergency drought is a state-wide problem that affects all of us – from farmers to fisherman to the average citizen. And it’s the drought, not the Delta, that’s affecting the water supply this year. That’s why Delta fisherman and farmers support these protections – because their jobs and livelihoods depend on it.
“While we can’t make it rain, we can take charge of our water use by investing in smart water practices that protect and preserve our water supply. In order to ensure a healthy, productive fishing and farming industry in the Delta, the State needs to invest in a 21st-centurty water system that can that deliver clean, healthy water supplies for generations to come. That means employing common sense water-saving measures including everything from water conservation in our homes to drought-resistant regional water supply strategies like water recycling to advanced irrigation systems on our farms. At a time when we cannot afford to let a drop go to waste, these steps will ensure a healthy water supply today and more resilient cities and farms tomorrow.
“Today’s ruling recognizes the importance of the Delta’s fishing and farming community, which deserves to have its livelihood preserved. We now look forward to working with the State to advance real long-term solutions to our water needs.”
Additionally, following is a statement from Trent Orr, Earthjustice attorney, a partner in the suits:
“The smelt biological opinion is a keystone element of the effort to restore the Bay-Delta to health. In recent decades, the population of the delta smelt, once one of the most abundant fish in the Delta, has collapsed largely because of over-pumping of water for industrial-scale agriculture in semi-desert areas. Many other species that rely on sufficient freshwater flows through the Delta have declined as well. Our efforts to improve flows through the Delta for the smelt have beneficial effects on the entire Delta ecosystem and the complex web of life it supports. Today’s decision will keep those flows in place and protect the Delta,” said Trent Orr, Earthjustice attorney.