At three inches long, the delta smelt is one of the smallest fish in California — but ounce for ounce, no species statewide carries more weight.
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Endangered since 1993, the plankton-eating silver minnow is blamed by farmers, lawmakers and water officials up and down the Golden State for locking down billions of gallons of water that otherwise would go to them. That’s because, since the smelt’s listing as a protected species, biologists have tried saving the fish, in part, by withholding fresh river runoff annually to maintain smelt-friendly temperature and salinity levels.

Farmers and downstate cities — already suffering the effects of the drought — claim that water was allocated to them, and withholding it for a fish with no commercial purpose is bad policy.