Water users from some of the distrcts hardest hit by a 2007 biological opinion have filed suit to overturn how water is allocated to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Water users call the lawsuit a correction that would allow more water to flow to them. Environmentalists, on the other hand, view the suit as an attempt to overturn protection for the delta smelt, a 3-inch-long fish that lives in the delta. The fish is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger ruled in May 2007 that the existing biological opinion was flawed and ordered a rewrite. 

In the interim, he issued temporary guidelines that resulted in more than 600,000 acre-feet of water taken from water users last year. An acre-foot, about 328,500 gallons, can meet the annual water needs of one to two famlies of four, depending on their use.

The new guidelines were issued in December and are the target of the lawsuit. As a result of the guidelines, Central Valley Project officials have warned growers on the San Joaquin Valley's west side to expect as little as zero surface water deliveries this season.

The federal Central Valley Project, and to a lesser extent, the State Water Project, deliver surface water to growers on the Westside.

“No one wants to see a species go extinct.  We simply want science and facts to guide the decision process,” says Dan Nelson, executive director of the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority.  The authority filed the lawsuit in conjunction with some of its water district members.

The lawsuit asks the federal court to enjoin the enforcement of the December biological opinion.  It claims that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials used their own suppositions instead of facts, according to a news release. The suit also says the service violated its own standards for scientific accuracy.

“Evidence has been presented that factors other than the pumps were impacting the declining numbers of the smelt,” Nelson says. “These factors included invasive species, loss of smelt food supply and pollution. The latest biological opinion discards these factors entirely and has focused on limiting the amount of water pumped from the Delta."

According to a University of California, Davis, study, loss of farm income in the Central Valley could top $2 billion this year and lost farm-related jobs could total 80,000 because of the reduced water supply.