Lawsuit filed over drainage into San Joaquin River

The Fresno BeeNovember 10, 2011 

FRESNO -- Fishing and conservation groups sued the federal government Wednesday, hoping to stop the west Valley flow of tainted irrigation drainage into the San Joaquin River.

With a long-awaited restoration of salmon starting late next year in the river, the time has come to cut off the contaminated water from the Grassland Bypass Project, the groups say.

West-side farmers have worked with federal and state regulators to reduce the pollution, plaintiffs say, but they have come up far short.

"These discharges are toxic to fish," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the San Francisco-based Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations, a plaintiff. "It doesn't make any sense to continue." The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento. Other plaintiffs include the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and Friends of the River.

West-side farm officials say their work has been a model for cleaning up agricultural drainage. Water quality has improved, and government officials have approved their effort, they say.

"The lawsuit is an unfortunate effort to revisit questions already answered by state and federal agencies," said Dan Nelson, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, based in Los Banos.

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