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California water wars have taken many legal twists and turns

In the minds of many, having sufficient water for municipal water systems and food production would take precedence over other uses. But for many residents of California and for federal law, that is not the case.

Judge Oliver Wanger, a veteran of more than 20 years of the water wars as a sitting judge in the U.S. District Court for Eastern California in Fresno, says that, under the law, endangered species have the same standing as those who also need surface water supplies from the Central Valley Project.

"Do I think that's right or fair?" he asked. "It doesn't matter because your first responsibility as a judge is to follow the law. If you won't do that, then you have no business sitting as a judge."

Wanger, who said he doubts he has any friends left in the San Joaquin Valley after the many rulings he had to make in the cases brought by environmentalists and water resources groups, said a series of laws passed by Congress have said the courts must consider the right species have to exist when deciding legal questions.

That includes the impact of running pumps in the Sacramento River Valley Delta to move water through the waterways in northern California. Environmental groups have sued to block the operation of the pumps, claiming they lead to deaths of the Delta smelt, a small fish that has been placed on the Endangered Species List.

Wanger's comments came as he moderated a panel of government officials and water authority managers who spoke at the 2014 World Ag Expo Water Summit in Tulare, Calif., on Feb. 13.

For more information on the Summit, click on




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