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Politically Motivated Fish Opinion Voided

What's That I Smelt?

The delta smelt is a tiny fish that inhabits the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in California. Its numbers have dropped precipitously in recent years, in part because of water diversions. Nevertheless, the Bush administration recently announced that it would build yet another huge pump to extract water from the delta to send south for domestic and agricultural purposes.

No Worries

To justify this plan, the administration submitted a biological opinion that claimed that increasing water exports wouldn't harm the smelt—even though the smelt's numbers are already at all-time lows. Environmental organizations challenged the opinion and during the litigation it was discovered that a high official in the Interior Department had forced Fish and Wildlife scientists to change their finding to justify the report's conclusions.

Yes Worries

On May 25, 2007, a federal judge in Fresno ruled that the bi-op was illegal and must be rewritten. Shortly thereafter the state of California, on its own, shut down operating pumps in the delta when a count of smelt turned up just 25 individuals. (The pumps were turned back on a few weeks later when the smelt migrated elsewhere.) Earthjustice represented the Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the River, California Trout, the Bay Institute, and Baykeeper in the litigation.