U.S. District Court judges aren’t known for using inflammatory language in deciding the weighty issues that come before them on the federal bench. So it was remarkable to read the scorching indictment of a federal environmental agency and two of its scientists last week by Judge Oliver W. Wanger. (See also Washington Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold’s detailed look at the case on Page 30.) The case concerns how the government should manage California water supplies and at the same time seek to preserve the delta smelt, an allegedly endangered species of minnow-like fish.
Big Green environmentalists claim the delta smelt is threatened with extinction by diversion of water from the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers to supply farms in California’s Central Valley and cities in Southern California. Those diversions are handled by the Central Valley Project, a Depression-era federal water project designed to move water from California’s northern area to its arid southern region. The issue before Wanger was where Department of Interior officials should set boundaries between the fresher water of the rivers the fish prefer and the saltier waters from the San Francisco Bay. The 2-inch-long fish mainly breeds in marshy estuary areas where the fresh and salt water mix.
By diverting more fresh water for the delta smelt, federal officials reduce the amount available for people on farms and in cities. California’s Central Valley was long among the nation’s richest agricultural areas, producing fruits and vegetables shipped to grocery shelves across the country. Increased water diversion under President Obama and Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar, however, has wreaked Depression-like economic havoc on the region, costing thousands of jobs, increasing food prices nationwide, and destroying a way of life for many California farm families. Unemployment in some areas of the valley has reached 40 percent.
Wanger was angered by testimony from the two scientists, Frederick V. Feyrer and Jennifer M. Norris, that he said was “false,” “contradictory” and “misleading.” He accused the Interior Department of “bad faith” in providing the two scientists as experts, and claimed their testimony was “an attempt to mislead and to deceive the court into accepting not only what is not the best science, it’s not science.”