Feds failed salmon on delta water pumping, judge says

Feds failed salmon on delta water pumping, judge says

Oregonian article on the federal court ruling on increasing pumping of water from the Sacramento River Delta.

By Michael Milstein
April 17, 2008


A federal court ruling Wednesday involving California’s water supply may lead to extra help for the collapsing salmon population that supports much of Oregon’s offshore salmon fishing.

U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger in Fresno, Calif., threw out a federal analysis that supported increased pumping of water from the Sacramento River Delta to cities and farms in Southern California. The delta is a vital conduit for Sacramento River chinook salmon, which typically provide about 60 percent to 80 percent of Oregon’s offshore salmon catch.

Last week, fisheries managers shut down ocean salmon fishing along most of the Oregon coast this year because of a collapse in the numbers of Sacramento salmon.

The dramatic collapse has not been clearly tied to the pumping, but scientists say deteriorating conditions in the delta make the salmon more vulnerable to poor ocean conditions that also may play a role.

The judge said the federal government’s finding that the pumping killed young salmon as they migrated through the delta to the ocean was “inconsistent, if not irreconcilable” with the conclusion that it did not jeopardize their survival.

He also said water regulators failed to consider the effects of global warming that may leave water in shorter supply in coming decades.

His ruling involved Sacramento River winter run chinook salmon and other imperiled California salmon protected by the Endangered Species Act. Oregon’s fishery depends heavily on Sacramento River fall run salmon, which are not protected by the law but may benefit from steps to aid the winter run fish.

“Some of those protections can help the fall run chinook, which are our main driver,” said Zeke Grader of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

Wanger said the 2004 federal study of water pumping was scientifically inadequate, and there had been a “total failure to address, adequately explain and analyze the effects of global climate change on the species.”

The study had concluded that more water could be taken from California’s Central Valley to quench residential and agricultural thirsts throughout the state. Pumping has already been curtailed by a similar ruling by the same judge on the government’s failure to address effects on a threatened fish species called the Delta smelt.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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