For years, environmentalists have blamed the rapidly dwindling smelt population in the San Joaquin-Sacramento River delta on huge pumps that dispense water throughout southern California, but also suck in and kill huge numbers of the endangered fish. To protect the smelt, a species unique to the delta, a federal judge issued a far-reaching ruling Friday imposing limits on water diversion from the delta. State water officials say the ruling by Judge Oliver Wanger (heh heh) could cut the amount of withdrawn water by around one-third, restricting water access to 750,000 acres of cropland and a thirsty SoCal population 25 million strong. In response, cities may have to institute mandatory H2O rationing or dip into reserves, and farmers may be forced to look into sustainable agriculture and more efficient irrigation (the horror!). The federal government is drafting rules to protect the delta smelt; Wanger’s ruling will hold until that those guidelines are issued, probably in about a year.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.