Judge in water hearings defends rulings at meeting

02/17/2010 2:13 PM

02/17/2010 2:33 PM

The Fresno federal judge whose rulings have limited water pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta made his own case today before a crowd of farmers and water officials in Madera.

U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger, the keynote speaker at a half-day water conference sponsored by the Madera County Farm Bureau, acknowledged that some people see him as the bad guy. But Wanger said Congress has left him no option but to rule for fish over farms in the legal battle surrounding pumping from the delta.

Congress makes these laws, including the Endangered Species Act and the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, which gave endangered species equal footing with meeting water needs of farms and cities, Wanger said. The courts, he said, are left to interpret the laws Congress writes.

"We cannot rewrite the law. We can only follow the law," he said.

Wanger spent much of his talk providing an overview of the state's major water projects, their history and the key rulings that led to the cases before him in U.S. District Court in Fresno.

Wanger faced a polite crowd, and his talk apparently persuaded some audience members to reconsider who they blame for the Valley's water shortage.

Some said they had come to the conference faulting Wanger for limiting water pumping from the delta, but now think Congress is responsible. Others, however, said they already had blamed Congress for the delta's problems.

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