“After a drought-busting winter that was good news for fishers and farmers, tens of thousands of salmon have been caught or killed at the powerful Delta pumps in the past few months. In addition, more than 6 million Sacramento splittail, a large minnow that environmentalists say should be protected by endangered species laws, were also collected or killed at the pumps.
“Government biologists contend that the large number of fish killed in recent weeks and months is a product of their bouncing back because of the big winter. It stands to reason that with more fish in the estuary, more will be found at the pumps, they say.
“Still, to reduce the toll on California’s salmon run, which collapsed three years ago, regulators this week ordered pumps that serve farms along Interstate 5 to slow down by about one-third for two weeks.
“For farmers, the effect is slight — just a percentage point or two off what they would otherwise receive this year. And it appears possible that loss of water could be made up later in the year, though the head of the organization that filed the lawsuit denied that.
“We think it’s an illegal restriction on our pumping,” said Dan Nelson, general manager of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, which mostly represents west San Joaquin Valley farms. “The fishery action costs 35,000 acre-feet. “… There is no way of making that up.”
“The move to slow pumping rates was made possible by a 1992 law, co-authored by Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, that shifted 800,000 acre-feet of water from San Joaquin Valley farms to the Bay-Delta environment, largely with the intent of doubling salmon populations. The law was in response to concerns that excessive diversions of Delta water to farms was degrading the estuary.
“The lawsuit, filed late Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Fresno, contends the decision to let 35,000 acre-feet of water flow into San Francisco Bay rather than be pumped to farms is illegal because it violates a 1985 agreement between state and federal water managers to maximize pumping in wet periods.”
Read more: mercury news