A federal court on Tuesday temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s efforts to pump more water to the agricultural Central Valley, which critics said would threaten endangered species and salmon runs.
A judge issued a preliminary injunction in two lawsuits brought against the administration by California’s Natural Resources Agency and Environmental Protection Agency and by a half-dozen environmental groups.
The order bars the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation until May 31 from going ahead with expanding the amount of water it pumps from the San Joaquin Delta through the federal Central Valley Project.
The suits argued that the exports would cause irreparable harm to species protected by state and federal law.
President Donald Trump has denounced rules meant to ensure that enough fresh water stayed in rivers and the San Francisco Bay to sustain more than a dozen endangered fish and other native species, which are struggling as agriculture and development diverts more water and land from wildlife.
But especially in the wake of a long drought, farmers in the Central Valley — a Republican enclave in a Democrat-controlled state — are thirsty for more water. The valley is the heartland for the state’s $50 billion agricultural industry.
The administration says its proposed changes will allow for more flexibility in water deliveries. In California’s heavily engineered water system, giant state and federal water projects made up of hundreds of miles of pipes, canals, pumps and dams, carry runoff from rain and Sierra Nevada snow melt from north to south — and serve as the field of battle for lawsuits and regional political fights over competing demands for water.
“Today’s victory is critical, but the fight is not over,” state Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “We have the facts, science, and the law behind us, and we look forward to making our case in court.”