Two fishing groups won a major legal victory last week against the federal government and agribusiness interests when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Delta water contracts with the Westlands Water District and other irrigators.

The ruling by the three-judge panel could throw a major obstacle in the path of Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels Plan, the California WaterFix project, since it “assumes incorrectly” that the federal government must strive to deliver the “full contract amounts” to San Joaquin Valley agribusiness under its interim contracts, according to the groups.

On July 25, the Court ruled in favor of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) and the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association in their long legal battle with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and San Joaquin Valley corporate agribusiness operations that divert millions of acre feet of water annually from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas.

After four years of court proceedings, the Court of Appeals ruled that the Bureau of Reclamation had violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) “by failing to consider reducing the quantity of water diverted from the Delta for farming uses and increasing the Delta’s fresh water flows to San Francisco Bay to restore its imperiled salmon and wildlife," according to a press release from the Law Offices of Stephan Volker, attorney for the two organizations.

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