On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger temporarily lifted pumping restrictions that had been put in place to protect endangered salmon, steelhead and other fish found in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. This decision has the potential to wreak havoc on these species that have been in severe decline, in large part because of over-pumping from the Delta, and to adversely impact commercial salmon fishermen.
Plummeting salmon runs have led to the cancellation of the commercial salmon season the past two years, causing a loss of 23,000 jobs and $2 billion in revenue, according to a study by Southwick Associates. In 2002, 768,000 adult Sacramento River fall-run Chinook Salomon returned to the Central Valley, but by 2009 that number had plunged to 39,530 fish, mostly due to increases in State Water Project pumping from the Delta.
Nonetheless, Judge Wanger’s decision will allow pumping from the Delta to nearly quadruple over the next several weeks; just as the fall-run salmon and endangered steelhead will be migrating downstream.
Wanger stated that the limits may be reinstated if more salmon or steelhead are found around the pumps or if scientists find other evidence that fish are being harmed by additional pumping. We can only hope that the court can react fast enough to prevent these species from getting any closer to brink of extinction.