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California Water Fight May Head to U.S. Supreme Court

California Water Fight May Head to U.S. Supreme Court

BAKERSFIELD, CA — A legal group representing nut farmers in California’s San Joaquin Valley filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, hoping to reverse a Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision from March that upheld a curb on water pumping championed by environmentalist groups in order to protect a species of fish in Northern California.

In March, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a Fresno district court’s ruling that a 2008 biological opinion (BiOp) drafted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was “arbitrary and capricious,” and reinstated the BiOp. The BiOp affords protection to the threatened Delta smelt species of fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta by imposing cutbacks on water pumped to the Central Valley and the rest of Southern California for agricultural and residential purposes.

Now, the nonprofit Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) representing walnut, almond, and pistachio farmers in the Valley claim that the Ninth Circuit Court did not take economic impact data into account when it made its decision to uphold the BiOp.

“Under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s own rules, officials must consider economic impacts of proposed ESA regulations,” PLF principal attorney Damien Schiff said in a statement. “But with the smelt BiOp, they bypassed this requirement. We’re asking the Supreme Court to call them out for not making good on their legal duty — and on their duty to the public interest.”

Farmers, agriculture officials, and local representatives have long argued that the cutbacks on water pumping are driving down production levels and driving up costs. 

“What civilized society destroys its own food source for a three-inch fish?” Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) told Breitbart California. “The federal government has prioritized the lives of wildlife above the well-being of people, and the effects on California’s breadbasket, which feeds the nation, is now evident to all.”

Assemblywoman Grove, who authored a September 19 editorial calling for a review of “bad” water policy and a temporary suspension of the Endangered Species Act, said she supports the farmers’ appeal to the Supreme Court.

“It is important that growers take this fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, who will hopefully consider the economic pain and suffering being caused to Californians by the Endangered Species Act,” Grove said.

PLF lead attorney Damien Schiff elaborated in his statement:

“The economic impacts that regulators ignored have been tremendous — and tremendously negative,” Schiff said. “Even before the drought, pumping restrictions fallowed hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland, contributing to unemployment of 40 percent in some rural communities. In Southern California, we saw what amounts to a Delta smelt tax, with water rates hiked by 17 percent or more in some areas.”

The case is Stewart & Jasper Orchards v. Jewell. The full text of the appeal can be viewed here.

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