Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Delta smelt will be in Fresno court this week

A three-inch minnow again will be briefly in a spotlight this week in Fresno. A U.S. District judge is considering a three-year delay on rewriting the plan to protect the threatened delta smelt.

Here in federal court, the fish has been at the center of a years-long legal argument pitting the protection plan against water pumping for cities and farms.

Federal authorities are seeking the delay so they can focus on a broader effort that will protect the place where the smelt live.

I’ve been following the smelt issue since 1991 when federal wildlife authorities proposed it as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. I’ll give you a short explanation of why you should care about the smelt case.

The fish lives only in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in Northern California. The delta is where water pumping supplies millions of Californians with drinking water and 3 million acres of farmland with irrigation water.

When the smelt strays near the big pumps, it’s time to shut down pumping, which slows down the effort to fill San Luis Reservoir. The reservoir holds irrigation water for west San Joaquin Valley farming.

The pumps were shut down for a few weeks in December to protect the smelt. Farm water leaders here fear it will result in reduced irrigation deliveries this summer. That’s why you should care.

It’s just one corner of a story that has traveled through courts, fiery debates, scientific studies and grand political ideas to solve this clash. The process continues, and it’s a subject for another day.

The bigger point remains over the decades. California’s big rivers and fresh water are in the north. People are in the south. And a huge swath of lucrative farming is right in the middle.

It’s a statewide issue, and it affects the Valley’s biggest industry.



Mark Grossi says:

Posting this for Steve Martarano,spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

C’mon Mark, the pumps weren’t “shut down” in December to protect the delta smelt, as your story today says. Pumping was ramped down, or decreased, but the pumps are never shut off completely. The Determinations listed here explains exactly how much pumping is decreased because of the biological opinion.

Mark Grossi says:

The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority emailed its calculations of water losses for the west side so far due to pumping restrictions required by the biological opinion mentioned by the USF&WS above. The total is 631,924 acre-feet of water, according to the SL&DMWA.

Mark Grossi says:

There will not be a hearing on the smelt motion Thursday, according to F&WS and federal court officials. The judge will post a decision online, and it will probably happen soon. For more details, check out the F&WS documents here:

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