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Expert Available on California Water Politics and Judicial Decision Overturning Delta Smelt Protection Rules

On Tuesday, U.S. Federal Judge Oliver Wagner overturned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protections for the delta smelt, finding “that despite the harm visited on California water users, FWS has failed to provide lawful explanations for the apparent over-appropriation of project water supplies for species protection.”

"The public cannot afford sloppy science and uni-directional prescriptions that ignore California's water needs," the judge wrote, adding that the state Legislature had failed "to provide the means to assure an adequate water supply for both the humans and the species dependent on the delta.” The ruling sends the 2008 biological opinion back to the FSW to correct its work.

Char Miller, an environmental historian and professor of environmental studies at Pomona College, is available to discuss the impact of Judge Wagner’s decision, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (a state and federal initiative), the history of California water distribution, and why Southern Californians should really care about the delta smelt.

“What Southern Californians fail to realize is that protections for this tiny fish determine the future water supply for Southern California and the health of the state’s agricultural industry,” says Miller. “Forty percent of Southern California water comes from the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Delta.”

“Yet rather than take this situation seriously, Judge Wagner’s decision seems to imply that if the fish would just step aside, there would be enough water for agricultural and urban consumption. There isn’t and won’t be. The Delta Smelt is not the problem. The state has pumped too much water and not demanded enough conservation by agricultural interests or urban residents. Now we have diminishing precipitation as a result of global warming added to the problem. It’s high time we enact regulations and develop incentives to ratchet down our water use instead of blaming a very small fish for our very large role in creating this environmental fiasco.”

Miller is the award-winning author of five books and the editor of 15 volumes, including: Groundwork; Conservation in American Culture (2007); Cities and Nature in the American West (editor, 2010); River Basins in the American West (editor, 2009), and Water in the Twenty-First Century West (editor, 2009). From 2007-2010, he served as a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians; in 2002 was named a Piper Professor, by the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation, for excellence in teaching and service to higher education in Texas; and in 1997, was awarded the Dr. and Mrs. Z.T. Scott Faculty Fellowship for Excellence in Teaching by Trinity University.

Miller, who is director of the Pomona College Environmental Analysis Program, can best be reached by email at or at his office (909) 607-8343.