Awash In Water and Profits, Cal Growers Denied More

The fight over the health of the Sacramento/Bay delta is a fight over the most important estuary on the west coast of north America.

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It’s hard to view the recent actions of some big agricultural operations in California’s San Joaquin Valley as anything but hostile to the state’s wildlife. Some of the biggest growers are refusing to take an overflowing allotment of irrigation water as enough and are cluttering up the court system with lawsuits aimed at wringing every last drop of water for themselves, no matter what damage that causes native fish species. 

The big growers went to court last week trying to force state and federal operators of water diversion pumps in the Sacramento/Bay delta to crank up to the max even though thousands of juvenile fall run king salmon have been killed at the pumps over the last few weeks. The young fish are trying to migrate from the rivers where they were born to the sea. The carnage at the pumps lead pump operators to ratchet back pumping. This infuriated water users but the judge refused to order more salmon killing, agreeing that federal law requires pump operators to take steps to protect t salmon runs that traverse the Sacramento/ Bay delta.
As the judge was ruling, a respected policy center released a new study showing that although the big growers moaned and groaned during the recent three year drought, most also found a way to keep the water coming and earned near record profits.   This happened while wildlife that lives in or migrates through the Sacramento/Bay delta suffered sharp declines due to lower than usual water flows.
The fight over the health of the Sacramento/Bay delta is a fight over the most important estuary on the west coast of north America. Protecting the delta has been the aim of years of Earthjustice work with notable successes in 2008 and 2009 when our litigation forced federal wildlife officials to replace weak rules with better ones. Protecting the delta has almost meant protecting the jobs of tens of thousands of Californians and Oregonians whose lives and work revolve around the salmon industry. Perhaps nowhere is the connection between a strong clean environment and economic health so clear. 

John was Earthjustice’s Media Director and chief press wrangler from 2001 until 2013. He came to Earthjustice in 2001 to defend freshwaters and public land—and salmon.

The California Regional Office fights for the rights of all to a healthy environment regardless of where in the state they live; we fight to protect the magnificent natural spaces and wildlife found in California; and we fight to transition California to a zero-emissions future where cars, trucks, buildings, and power plants run on clean energy, not fossil fuels.