Fish Out of Water
The White House has declined to appeal a U.S. federal court ruling that would provide water to the agriculture industry in California’s Central Valley potentially at the expense of Northern California’s fish and wildlife — a move that has provoked anger among environmentalists. In the earlier court case, the Westlands Water District, a 600,000-acre irrigation district in the western San Joaquin Valley, successfully challenged the 1992 Central Valley Water Project Improvement Act. That act provided 800,000 acre-feet of water for fish and wildlife in the San Francisco Bay/ Sacramento River and San Joaquin River Delta system. Rather than appealing the ruling, Interior Secretary Gale Norton opted to have her agency draft new rules for environmental water releases. That decision dismayed environmentalists, who said changing the rules could devastate fisheries in the affected regions. They also feared the decision would spell the end of the useful life of CalFed, a joint state and federal agency formed after passage of the 1992 act to ensure fair resource distribution and avoid endless litigation over the state’s water supply.