Delta fish rules always smelt of extremism 

If you want to understand some of the fundamental things that are wrong with our nation and California in particular, you ought to peruse the 140-page opinion recently issued by Judge Oliver Wanger in the “Consolidated Delta Smelt Cases.” It describes many of the most frustrating elements in our society — abuses of federal authority, bureaucratic micromanagement of our lives and political zealotry masquerading as science.

We all want to protect the environment, but in this case that means letting precious water run into the ocean through the San Francisco Bay, wasted in an arguably futile effort to reduce the salinity of the San Joaquin Delta waters so that this smelt — actually a subspecies that might not even be endangered — might thrive. As the judge ruled, the process is based on faulty science and some officials have acted like zealots, none of which should surprise anyone who has followed global warming and other environmental debates.

Fortunately, Judge Wanger issued a hard-hitting ruling that slapped down the feds and restores some balance to the process.

As reporter Wayne Lusvardi explained, “He ruled the federal government’s case was too small to grant a stay — a court-ordered continuation — of the man-made “X2” line where fresh water and ocean water currently mix in the delta at 46 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge near a spot between the cities of Pittsburg and Antioch.” The line is crucial — the closer it is set to the Bay, the more water must be used to cleanse salt from the Delta rather than for farm, residential and commercial uses.

We used to understand that nature would determine such things, but these days policymakers believe government can move mountains — or at least change salt levels in the Delta, reverse climate changes and restore the economy with massive subsidies. I mention the latter as a reminder of how futile this whole process can be. If the government can’t even jump-start the economy, what hope can it change the natural processes of the Earth?

But the government is capable of messing up real lives in the process of trying to make grandiose changes to the ecosystem.

“While farms and businesses are starved of water, more than 81 billion gallons of water have been allowed to flow out to the ocean — off- limits to human use or consumption, thanks to federal regulators’ environmental extremism,” explained the Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed a lawsuit against the federal Delta Smelt plan. “That’s enough to put 85,000 acres of farmland back into production.”

As Judge Wanger ruled, “The scientific evidence in support of imposing any Fall X2 action is manifestly equivocal. There is essentially no biological evidence to support the necessity of the specific 74 kilometers requirement set to be triggered in this “wet” water year. The agencies still “don’t get it.” They continue to believe their ‘right to be mistaken’ excuses precise and competent scientific analysis for actions they know will wreak havoc on California’s water supply.”

But while the ruling documents the insanity of the current process and the thinking behind the regulators and environmental activists who drive such policy, it also offers seeds of hope. It’s hard to fathom how our supposedly free and independent nation ceded so much authority to government regulators and judges. Maybe this is a reminder that Americans ought to put at least as much effort into reversing this trend as they have into saving a tiny minnow.

Steven Greenhut is editor of; write to him at

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