On the West Coast, central California farmers and cities are suing NMFS, asserting that the agency is unfairly redirecting water from the Delta in Northern California to help struggling West Coast salmon populations rebound — thus putting fish stock health above the economic well-being of the affected communities.
U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger chided NMFS on Tuesday for basing new rules designed to protect spring and winter salmon and Central Valley steelhead and green sturgeon upon — wait for it — questionable science.
Wanger said NMFS used “guesstimations” instead of the best science when determining guidelines for when pumping should be reduced. He said the agency didn’t explore alternatives for the nearly year round pumping restrictions.
And when determining when pumping should be curtailed, NMFS relied on numbers of fish caught in south Delta pumps without considering the size of the overall fish populations.
Two years ago, Wanger jettisoned old rules that didn’t adequately protect salmon. But the new rules, Wanger concluded, swing too far the other way; they don’t take into account the severe impact they would have upon the regions of the state that would receive less water.
NMFS, Wanger wrote in his decision, should have looked for other options that would protect fish and humans.
“The stakes are high, the harms to the affected human communities great and the injuries unacceptable if they can be mitigated,” Wanger wrote.
That likely frustrates salmon harvesters, who in recent years haven’t been able to fish because of low salmon populations. They can easily argue that water has been overappropriated for human use at the expense of salmon.
But maybe what Wanger is seeking is a balance of water distribution that can serve the needs of fish populations with those of human beings — be they fishermen or farmers.