In an action likely to bring them nose-to-nose with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as well as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Family Farm Alliance is filing a federal lawsuit demanding that government authorities make use of the best available scientific data in actions to shut down irrigation supplies in California’s Central Valley.

Although the “sound science” demand is aimed at relief for some two million acres of cropland devastated by claims of the NRDC and other groups that irrigation threatens the endangered Delta smelt, the implication of this first pro-active legal action will question use of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to restrict agricultural water supplies all over the West.

This is the first time the Family Farm Alliance has engaged in litigation, and it’s not a step we take lightly,” said Alliance President Pat O’Toole, “but our board unanimously felt other avenues used to advance our Information Quality Act (IQA) request had run into dead ends.”

The Alliance filed a request last December under the IQA asking that Fish & Wildlife identify what “best science” was used in eliminating irrigation on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, but a series of letters brought nothing more than that the Service had relied on evidence, some of it anecdotal, that the minnow was being depleted around pumping stations.

There are many, many stressors impacting Delta smelt,” said Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen, “but the federal agencies appear to be focused on only one: the water project pumps. We question the viability of their science and want to see their files associated with the science.”

The federally-imposed drought in the Central Valley has put thousands of people out of work and is expected to result just this year in a $23 million to $1 billion loss in farm production.—Tim Findley

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