Kill The Fall-Run Salmon, Argue Corporate Attorneys

Agribusiness in court to seize Sacramento water from fish and fishermen

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Yesterday (Feb. 2), Westlands Water District—California’s largest and most politically powerful agribusiness group—asked a federal judge to block a federal salmon restoration plan that protects salmon and other fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Earthjustice attorneys, who won a court order in 2008 putting the restoration plan in place, were there to defend it. Westland’s move could put the survival of the river’s salmon—and California and Oregon’s multi-billion dollar commercial and recreational salmon fishing industry—on the line. The judge will announce his decision next week.

Westlands wants to end restrictions on the operation of huge delta water pumps and canals from February through May, when baby salmon migrate from the Sacramento River to the ocean.

The pumps move massive volumes of fresh water from the Delta to farms and cities to the south, and the restrictions cut water user supplies by roughly 5 to 7 percent. These modest pumping restrictions may increase baby salmon survival by at least 50 percent.

Past pumping during the baby salmon migration is known to have killed large numbers of threatened salmon as well as non-threatened, commercially valuable fall-run chinook salmon. Sacramento River fall-run chinook, commonly known as king salmon, form the backbone of Oregon and California’s salmon fishing industry.

Unfortunately, before the current salmon restoration plan was put in place, runaway pumping led to the catastrophic collapse of the Sacramento’s once mighty king salmon run, two years of closed fishing in two states, hundreds of millions in lost income, and tens of thousands of lost jobs.

But yesterday, Westland’s showed that they couldn’t care less if the Sacramento’s salmon runs disappear, along with the thousands of fishing families who depend upon them. According to the Fresno Bee, attorneys for Westlands argued in part that the pumping restrictions should be thrown out because they protect far more fall-run salmon than the much smaller numbers of threatened salmon.

Unfortunately Westlands, southern California water speculators, and their Congressional representatives have refused to acknowledge the economic damage done to Oregon and California’s multi-billion dollar sport and commercial salmon fishery caused by the excessive water withdrawals from the Delta. Though they also tried yesterday to belittle clear evidence that Delta water withdrawals have exceeded the ecological carrying capacity of the Delta, let’s hope that the judge disagrees.

Jim McCarthy worked with Earthjustice attorneys to shine a press spotlight on West Coast salmon and water issues.