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The Associated Press April 1, 2010, 10:09AM ET

Judge: Pumping limits needed to protect Calif fish

A federal judge on Wednesday turned down farmers' emergency request to lift water pumping restrictions in California's delta, saying continuing with current pumping levels risked killing chinook salmon.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger means regulators will cut back the amount of water pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta starting at midnight.

The restrictions were put in place to protect endangered salmon and steelhead as the fish migrate through the delta into the Pacific Ocean, but farmers argue that the cutbacks are causing devastating crop losses.

The sweeping San Joaquin Valley grows most of the country's fruits and vegetables, but a three-year drought and restrictions on pumping from the freshwater estuary have hammered the region, creating drastic job losses and other economic woes.

The pumping restrictions are part of a plan by federal biologists to safeguard endangered salmon.

Environmentalists and fishermen have sued to get those protections in place, arguing that the collapse of one of the West Coast's biggest wild salmon runs two years ago foretold the extinction of related species.

Farmers, environmentalists, as well as state and federal biologists, will be back in court Thursday to present more evidence before Wanger as the hearing continues.

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