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Salmon win in 9th circuit court

Chinook Returns - Salmon win in 9th circuit courtCalifornia salmon and salmon fishermen won in federal court Friday when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the federal water project is obliged to provide enough water to double the salmon population. You can read the decision here.

Under the ruling, only surplus water from the bay-delta water system can be delivered to water users in the San Joaquin Valley, not water from the 800,000 acre-foot allotment promised to fish under a 1992 federal law.

“It is not rocket science to figure out that fish need water to survive. The Ninth Circuit upheld the water allocations specified in the Central Valley Project Improvement Act. 800,000 acre feet of water must be provided for salmon,” said U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, who has advocated for more water for fish and fishermen. “This year we see the positive results of the water actually given to the fish and the delta ecosystem; scientists estimate that over 800,000 king salmon are swimming in the ocean and they will provide a healthy season for commercial and sports fishermen generating jobs and revenue for California.”

Ocean salmon fishing seasons were suspended in 2008 and 2009, allowed on a limited basis in 2010 and restored in 2011 as salmon populations began recovering after the federal and state governments required more flows for fish.

The ruling comes two days after Central Valley congressional representatives pushed legislation through the U.S. House of Representatives to give water districts, even those with junior or secondary rights to the water such as the Westlands Water District, preference over fish in water allocations. The court ruling specifically says the 1994 Bay-Delta Accord, which the Central Valley Republican congressmen’s bill, HR1837, seeks to re-establish as the basis for water allocations, was an interim measure only. HR1837 is not expected to clear the Senate.

The ruling also will affect negotiations in crafting the federal Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which state and federal entities are working on now with the goal of meeting a July deadline. The U.S. Department of Interior will need to make sure the Central Valley Project, the federal portion of California’s water distribution system, supplies more water for salmon. This will diminish supplies available to Westlands and other water districts.