U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) Friday in Fresno, CA, preventing federal agencies from implementing Endangered Species Act-based restrictions on water pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The ruling finds that water agency plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claims that the water pumping restrictions imposed by the so-called salmonid biological opinion (BiOp) would cause irreparable harm.
Wanger held that the federal agencies likely violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by imposing, without adequate review, water supply restrictions that could harm “the human environment, including job losses, dislocation of farm workers and other residents, lowering of the tax base, and prejudice to community services and schools; land fallowing and probable related adverse effects on air quality; overdrafting of groundwater and resulting land subsidence and adverse effects on water quality; as well as likely rationing of municipal water required for public use…”
The decision was hailed by Western Growers. “This is great news for farmers,” said Tom Nassif, Western Growers president and CEO, in a press release. “We have lost tens of thousands of acre feet over the past couple of weeks because of limits on Delta pumping due to environmental restrictions. While this is a temporary restraining order and not a final order, the judge clearly indicated the importance of considering human and economic impact in the case.”
The court also noted that the shortened time frame for hearing the TRO motion was “that unexpected storm events in January and February 2010 have made and are likely to continue to make available a potential source of water that could enhance (federal and state project) supply, but which will be ‘lost’ unless captured within days of the storms’ occurrence.”
Wanger acknowledged that much of the harm to growers and cities has come from the drought, but also noted that “it is undisputed that any lost pumping capacity directly attributable to the 2009 Salmonid Biop will contribute to and exacerbate the currently catastrophic situation faced by Plaintiffs, whose farms, businesses, water service areas, and impacted cities and counties, are dependent, some exclusively, on (federal and/or state water project) deliveries.”