3/13/2014: Court Upholds Key Protections for California Bay-Delta Health

Decision Helps Protect Water Quality and Habitat for Fish, Wildlife, and Delta Farms

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (March 13, 2014) – The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today ruled to uphold a federal plan of protection for California’s vital San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem. In a 2-1 decision, authored by a George W. Bush appointee, the court sided with The Bay Institute, Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, and the federal government in its determination that protections for the threatened delta smelt are fully justified and necessary to restore the health and water quality of the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas.

Today’s ruling stems from several lawsuits filed in 2008 contesting the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s protections for threatened and endangered fish in the Delta. These protections, described in a 2008 biological opinion, were issued to address the Delta’s ecological collapse, which also affects local farmers, the productivity of the San Francisco Bay Estuary, and fishermen from Morro Bay, California to southern Oregon. A parallel appeal, regarding contested protections for Chinook salmon and steelhead, is still before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Following is a statement from The Bay Institute's Conservation Biologist, Jon Rosenfield, Ph.D.:
"Today's ruling from the appellate court affirms the validity of the science in the 2008 Biological Opinion regarding the minimum protections needed to prevent extinction of Delta smelt, a fish found nowhere else in the world.  Protections for the smelt that were upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court, benefit other fish and wildlife species, including Chinook salmon and steelhead, which rely on the San Francisco Bay Estuary -- the largest and once most-productive estuary on the west coast of North and South America.
Today's ruling is a victory for: 
  • fishermen along the California and Oregon coast who depend on a productive San Francisco Bay Estuary, 
  • farmer's in the San Francisco Bay-Delta who depend on the Delta's water quality, 
  • science and the dozens of federal, state, academic, and NGO scientists who contributed to the creation, vetting, and rigorous peer-review of the protections upheld by the appellate court,
  • and, of course, for the imperiled Delta smelt itself. 
“The ruling is not expected to produce any change in water deliveries from the state and federal water projects this year; water deliveries have already been curtailed because of unprecedented drought conditions and water quality concerns in the Delta that are exacerbated by large-scale water exports.
"The drought, not endangered species, is the limit on water deliveries from the Delta this year.  Restricted deliveries caused by this drought and, in other years, by the catastrophic collapse of fish populations in the San Francisco Bay Estuary are sending a loud signal that our current water use practices -- including export of vast amounts of water to the agribusiness industry in the southern San Joaquin Valley -- are not sustainable. We should use this opportunity to heed the inescapable message of this drought -- California needs to invest in a 21st-century water system that incorporates common sense water-management measures such as water conservation in our homes, municipal water recycling, and advanced irrigation systems for our farms. Endangered fish populations are only a harbinger of the losses to California's economy and quality of life that await us unless the State invests in sustainable water use policies now.
"Following the appellate court's decision, we welcome the opportunity to return our focus towards long-term solutions to restore our chronically overtapped Delta ecosystem in collaboration with state and federal scientists who have the responsibility to steward these resources for all Californians."
To read the full opinion: http://docs.nrdc.org/water/wat_14031301.asp
About The Bay Institute
Founded in 1981, The Bay Institute's mission is to protect, restore and inspire conservation of San Francisco Bay and its watershed from the Sierra to the sea. The Bay Institute uses a combination of scientific research, political advocacy, and public education to work toward the environmental restoration of the entire watershed that drains into San Francisco Bay. The Bay Institute's Rivers and Delta Program has spearheaded the efforts to protect the Delta smelt since the species' was originally listed as a threatened species in 1993. 
Visit us on the web: http://www.bay.org/rivers-and-delta