Federal fisheries regulators have approved a controversial plan opposed by environmental groups that would allow for more pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta this fall.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signed off on a proposal championed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and south state California water interests to ramp up Delta pumping starting next week.
“We believe this modification will help strike a balance between this year’s water needs for wildlife, agriculture and municipalities,” Paul Souza, the wildlife services regional director in Sacramento, said in a prepared statement.
The contractors’ proposal would allow for an additional 400,000 acre-feet – around 130 billion gallons – of water to be shipped through the Delta to farms and cities in the Silicon Valley, Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley. Otherwise, that water would flow on a natural course to the Pacific Ocean.
Environmental groups fought the plan, saying requirements federal scientists use to set pumping rates dictate more water go to habitat for critically endangered Delta smelt. The fisheries agency tweaked the proposal to allow for slightly more water to go to fish habitat, but it didn’t satisfy environmentalists.
“Its outrageous,” said Doug Obegi, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco.
He said he and other environmental groups are considering whether to challenge the action in court.