Honorable Judge Dale Drozd, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, issued a preliminary injunction yesterday to stop the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from proceeding with water operations that would harm imperiled fish in the San Francisco Bay-Delta. The court’s May 11, 2020 order grants plaintiffs’ requests to impose limitations on water exports from the Delta during  May to protect California Central Valley steelhead. The order reimposes a provision from the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service’s 2009 biological opinion that has protected California Central Valley steelhead for the past decade.  

With respect to the environmental plaintiffs’ claims regarding the Stanislaus River, the court accepted the federal government’s representations that the river would be managed to meet the terms of the 2009 biological opinion and denied the environmental plaintiffs’ motion on that basis, while noting that plaintiffs were not foreclosed from filing a future motion based on a renewed showing of likely harm.  

Significant portions of the environmental plaintiffs’ preliminary injunction motion remain unresolved, including arguments related to temperature management on the Sacramento River, and Judge Drozd indicated that he would rule on the outstanding matters soon.

Statement issued by Rachel Zwillinger, California water policy advisor for Defenders of Wildlife: 

“The court threw endangered Bay-Delta fish a lifeline with this timely ruling, ensuring that the Trump administration doesn’t run roughshod over our environmental laws. This decision reinstates water operations that had been in place for the last decade and gives these imperiled fish a fighting chance at survival. 

“This ruling gives species some room to breathe as the court considers the remainder of our requests to protect critically imperiled Bay-Delta fish.”


In December 2019, Defenders of Wildlife and other conservation and fishing organizations (“environmental plaintiffs”) filed a lawsuit challenging Endangered Species Act biological opinions that authorize the Bureau of Reclamation’s harmful new water operations. 

The state of California also filed a lawsuit challenging the federal water operations plan.  Environmental plaintiffs filed a motion seeking a broad preliminary injunction to protect endangered fish while the lawsuits are pending. California filed a motion in May for preliminary injunctive relief more narrowly focused on the immediate impacts of water operations on imperiled fish in the Delta.  

Altshuler Berzon LLP is representing Defenders of Wildlife and several of the other environmental plaintiffs in this litigation.  The other environmental plaintiffs include Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Golden State Salmon Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, and The Bay Institute.

Defenders of Wildlife is celebrating 75 years of protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.



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