February 25, 2011 / 2:56 AM / 9 years ago

Truce called in California water battle over fish

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Environmentalists, farmers and other combatants in California’s big water fight over a little fish called a temporary truce on Thursday.

Attorneys for state and federal agencies joined in a proposed settlement over the tiny Delta smelt, agreeing to allow diversions of some water from rivers to farms but putting conditions on any such pumping.

The smelt battle is emblematic of the larger water war in California, which pits conservationists against businesses and is likely to grow more intense as the state’s population rises.

The settlement, which must be approved by a federal judge, would put the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in charge of decisions about withdrawals through the end of June and requires it use the best available science and real-time data.

Federal scientists in the meantime will work on a revised Biological Opinion on the future of the smelt, the key to determining conservation needs.

Whether the deal will be a model for a longer term settlement is unclear.

“It represents a truce for the time being, but it’s temporary,” said Paul Weiland, a lawyer for the Kern County Water Agency, which supplies water to farmers. Both sides wanted breathing room in talks, he said.

“It’s a good sign that we have reached this limited agreement. It’s hard to know what this means in the long run,” agreed Doug Obegi, a Natural Resources Defense Council lawyer.

“It allows for potentially a limited experiment (of pumping) but it doesn’t require that experiment and it puts conditions on it,” Obegi said.

Other parties were not immediately available for comment.

Reporting by Peter Henderson; Editing by Jerry Norton

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