Judge orders Calif water pumping limits lifted - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Judge orders Calif water pumping limits lifted

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Vineyard manager Paul Foppiano sits by a water pumping station at Foppiano Vineyards in Healdsburg, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) Vineyard manager Paul Foppiano sits by a water pumping station at Foppiano Vineyards in Healdsburg, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal judge temporarily lifted pumping limits Friday designed to protect native, wild salmon in order to speed more irrigation supplies to California's drought-addled fields.

Some of the country's largest farms had pressed for the protections to be suspended to nurture their fields and orchards. West Coast fishermen argued the limits were necessary to save their dwindling catch.

"This means there's progress, and anything's better than nothing," said Tim Heskett, 44, who grows 150 acres of pistachios near the tiny community of Mendota, on the west side of the parched San Joaquin Valley.

"I got this little ranch that I'm trying to keep together, so maybe this is a sign of a little bit of hope," he said.

In normal years, the sweeping valley grows most of the country's fruits and vegetables, but a persistent drought and restrictions on pumping from the state's freshwater estuary have hammered the region, causing drastic job losses and other economic woes.

After hearing hours of testimony from both sides this week, U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger granted farmers' request for a temporary restraining order, lifting the pumping restrictions for two weeks.

Environmentalists warned that would heighten the risk that fish were ground up in the pumps.

"We're very concerned that this may be the last nail in the coffin of these species that are on the brink of extinction already," said Erin Tobin, an attorney with Earthjustice.

The pumping restrictions are part of a plan by federal biologists to safeguard endangered salmon as they spawn in the state's rivers and swim through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to reach the Pacific Ocean.

Environmentalists and fishermen sued a few years to get those protections in place, arguing that the collapse of one of the West Coast's biggest wild salmon runs two years ago foretold the extinction of related species.

Even as recent storms have replenished reservoirs, pumping in the freshwater estuary has been restricted to protect juvenile fish as they navigate the treacherous pumps and canals linked to the delta — the heart of the state's water delivery system that supplies cities and farms.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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