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Salmon and steelhead are threatened by California's water system, judge says

July 19, 2008 | 10:28 pm


Check out Times staff writer Eric Bailey's story today on another late-Friday decision by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger of Fresno said in a 118-page opinion that the "Central Valley's winter- and spring-run salmon, as well as the remnants of its once-thriving steelhead population, are being threatened by the dams and aqueducts that store and move water around California," according to the story.

But the judge denied several remedies suggested by environmental attorneys ... such as storing more water behind Shasta Dam to be released for migrating salmon and opening a pivotal diversion dam's gates to allow the fish to reach spawning grounds.

Environmentalists sued last April over threats to salmon and steelhead. According to the story, federal officials are working on a biological study "spelling out operational changes needed to keep the state's water system functioning without endangering the fish."

During a series of hearings this summer, state and federal water agencies "voluntarily agreed to some operational changes to better protect the fish, such as earlier opening of a diversion dam and increased water flows down a key tributary," the story says. "But environmentalists and fishermen wanted more."

The judge said a "scientific and evidentiary dispute" undercut the merits of environmentalists' proposed changes. He set a hearing Wednesday to hear further arguments.

Wanger's latest decision comes nearly a year after he ordered a pivotal shift in water operations because of concerns about Delta smelt, a tiny endangered fish that lives only in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. That ruling has resulted in a 30% cutback in Delta water exports this year.

On Thursday, the Public Policy Institute of California released a report concluding that a peripheral canal to carry water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta was the best potential strategy for reviving a threatened ecosystem and maintaining quality water for Californians.

-- Tami Abdollah

Photo: The 2002 Klamath salmon die-off, which officials said was the worst in decades, claimed more than 30,000 fish. Klamath, Calif. Credit: Bruce Ely, AP Photo / The Oregonian