Court Upholds Protections of California’s Native Salmon From Central Valley Water Diversions


Three-judge panel rejects efforts by commercial, agricultural water users to overturn federal protections


Maggie Caldwell, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2084

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today ruled that a “biological opinion” issued in 2009 that protects the habitat of endangered salmon in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers from increased water pumping would stand in its entirety. The decision preserves science-based guidelines for managing water flows through the San Francisco Bay-Delta at levels that protect imperiled fish and orcas and help to restore the Delta ecosystem. Earthjustice and Natural Resources Defense Council represented a broad coalition of local fishing organizations, conservationists, and a Native American tribe as defender-intervenors with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

A three-judge panel ruled in favor of the National Marine Fisheries Service in appealing a lower court’s decision that would have invalidated several of the water pumping limits and other protections established under the biological opinion.

The ruling reinforces landmark federal management plans for the Central Valley Project and State Water Project that protect the watershed’s imperiled fish and their critical habitat. Plaintiffs San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority and Westlands Water District sought to invalidate the 2009 biological opinion, which would have dramatically increased exports of water from the Bay Delta, eviscerating protections of  Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, southern distinct population segment of north American green sturgeon, and southern resident killer whales, all species protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“The effect of California’s drought cannot be blamed on these protected fish and mammals. It was good to see the Ninth Circuit recognize that science not politics should guide our management of water flows. Siphoning more water out of the Bay-Delta to industrial scale farms in the semi-arid southern parts of the state would only doom the health of the Bay-Delta and the complex web of life it supports. The salmon biological opinion is a keystone element of the effort to restore the Bay-Delta to health and to keep California’s commercial and recreational fishing industries from collapsing. Today’s decision will keep those flows in place and protect the Delta,” said Stacey Geis, Earthjustice managing attorney.

Earthjustice and NRDC represented the Bay Institute, California Trout, San Francisco Baykeeper, Friends of the River, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern California Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Sacramento River Preservation Trust and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe as defendant intervenors.


A fisherman holds a steelhead shortly before the American River is closed for recreational fishing until the spawning season ends.
(Brad Zweerink for Earthjustice)
A fisherman holds a steelhead shortly before the American River is closed for recreational fishing until the spawning season ends. (Brad Zweerink for Earthjustice)

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