The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority and the Westlands Water District has filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court against Reclamation’s release of water for the Klamath salmon.
The legal memorandum spells out the details of their case. All spring and summer, San Joaquin Valley farmers have pleaded with Reclamation for water and have been told that there is no water to spare. “They have been told that it cannot be helped, that their trees and crops, their livelihoods, their communities, cannot be spared from the consequences of a terrible drought, that sending them even 10,000 acre-feet would be “irresponsible.” Even Reclamation’s mandatory obligations to exchange contractors and wildlife refuges are going unfulfilled,” the memorandum states. “But it turns out there is stored CVP water available for release this year after all, just not for them.”
On Friday, August 22nd, Reclamation reversed their previous decision and announced it would release 30,000 AF of water or more to increase flows in the lower Klamath River to protect against possibility of a fish die-off, an event that has only happened once in recorded history, the memorandum points out. “The risk to endangered salmon in the Sacramento River that for months has been cited by Reclamation as the primary bar to using any more water form storage for farmers is somehow no impediment at all for this speculative use,” the memorandum states.
The plaintiffs are seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to stop the releases. The memorandum states that while the Court ultimately allowed similar releases to proceed last year, there are key differences this year. The projected run size of the salmon returning to the river is about a third of what was projected last year, and new data collected within the last weeks shows that there is enough water currently to disrupt the spread of disease, they say. With the continued drought, CVP carryover storage will be even lower than it was last year, threatening the cold water pool needed for listed salmon species, the memorandum points out.
The memorandum alleges that the releases of water are unlawful as they violate sections of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) and section 8 of the Reclamation Act, as well as failing to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. The releases “will cause irreparable harm by denying water users 20k,000 acre-feet or more of desperately needed water. The balance of hardships favors injunctive relief, especially given certain harm from water shortages compared to the speculative necessity of releases to prevent disease in the lower Klamath River.”