Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced that agreement has been reached among all parties involved on an order to be in effect for the remainder of the month in a pending court challenge to the Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion on the delta smelt. The U.S. Department of the Interior, the California Department of Water Resources, water users and environmental groups reached consensus on operations of the Central Valley Project (CVP) and the State Water Project (SVP) that will provide protection to the smelt and preserve the projects' ability to export water to urban and agricultural water users.
Although the settlement does not resolve the underlying challenge to the biological opinion, it marks a step toward reducing the level of conflict among the parties. "It was not so long ago that this level of cooperation among these parties would not have been possible, and I commend everyone for their hard work and perseverance in reaching this agreement," said Secretary Salazar. "As we develop the long term solutions to California's water challenges, I look forward to working with the congressional delegation and all stakeholders to find ways to improve reliability of water deliveries throughout California while also improving environmental conditions in the Delta."
The opportunity for consensus arose after the U.S. District Court in Fresno issued a decision on May 27, 2010, finding that the irrigators were likely to succeed in their challenge to FWS's biological opinion. Rather than holding hearings regarding an injunction, the court granted the parties' request to attempt to negotiate an appropriate agreement.
Under the terms of the negotiated agreement, for the remainder of June:
* The CVP and the SWP jointly will conduct pumping operations that maintain the Old and Middle River (OMR) flows so as not to be more negative than -5,000 cubic feet per second (cfs).
* The FWS may require reduced pumping operations in order to maintain OMR flows less negative than -5,000 cfs if the numbers of smelt harmed (salvaged) at the pumps exceeds agreed upon levels or if trends of smelt salvaged at the pumps show an imminent threat to the species.
As of July 1, all pumping restrictions required under the smelt biological opinion cease.
Hearings on the challenge to the substance of the biological opinion are scheduled for July 8 and 9.