Baykeeper Update

Appeals Court Limits Water that Can Be Pumped from Bay-Delta

A new federal appeals court ruling has upheld reasonable limits on the amount of fresh water that can be pumped out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Bay. This ruling helps protect endangered fish, the California salmon fishing industry, and the San Francisco Bay ecosystem.

On December 22, 2014, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the government’s 2009 reduction of water shipments from the Delta in order to protect salmon, steelhead trout, green sturgeon, and other imperiled species. Baykeeper was a party in the case, along with a broad coalition of environmental and fishing industry groups, represented by Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

“This is a clear victory for the San Francisco Bay and Delta ecosystems. It keeps needed protections in place,” said George Torgun, Baykeeper Managing Attorney. “But more still needs to be done to ensure that the Bay and Delta have enough fresh water to support the wildlife that has historically thrived here.”

Several water districts serving Central Valley agriculture and southern California had sued to invalidate the 2009 limits on pumping water from the Delta, which were won in a case brought by the environmental coalition, including Baykeeper. A lower court had ruled in favor of siphoning more water out of the Delta to export to industrial-scale farms. The pumping limits stayed in effect during the court fight, and now this latest appeals court ruling keeps them in place. 

The water districts may still appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the U.S. Supreme Court this week refused to hear an appeal to overturn similar limits on water pumping in the Deltato protect a small endangered fish, the Delta smelt, which Baykeeper was also involved in securing.

If the pumping limits to protect salmon and other fish do go before the Supreme Court, Baykeeper and our coalition partners will continue to defend the protections we helped to win. Allowing enough water to remain in the rivers and the Delta to support endangered species is key to restoring the health of the Bay and Delta ecosystem. Adequate water flows in the rivers and Delta are also critical to thousands of people who rely on California’s salmon runs to support themselves and their families.

The next big threat to fresh water flows into the Delta and Bay may come from the proposal to build giant tunnels to export water from the northern Delta. Baykeeper is opposed to the project, which is officially known as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), and we will keep working to prevent the construction of this costly, environmentally destructive project.