The Sacramento River Settlement Contractors (SRSCs), representing approximately 450,000 acres of irrigated agriculture in the western Sacramento Valley, are extremely disappointed by the two motions filed on November 9 by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Bay Institute and other environmental organizations who, for the past decade, have challenged the validity of the water rights settlement contracts executed in 2005 between the SRSCs and the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation). These settlement contracts have been in place for over 50 years, and are a fundamental operating component of the Central Valley Project and the statewide water system.
Further, the SRSCs are disappointed by the disregard for the truth evidenced by NRDC and its partners in the media releases that accompanied their court filings. NRDC and its partners have blatantly misrepresented the actions of the SRSCs, as well as state and federal regulatory agencies, to reduce the impacts of the drought on fish, waterfowl and other beneficial purposes.
2014 and 2015 were two of the driest years on record and were the most challenging on the Sacramento River. To help Reclamation operate the water system in a flexible manner, the SRSCs voluntarily deferred their diversions during these unusual years in the spring to help provide more cold water for salmon and in the fall for birds along the Pacific Flyway. In October, there was 440,000 acre-feet more water in Lake Shasta than at this time last year, in largely due to the efforts by the SRSCs to collaborate and flexibly manage the water system for salmon and other beneficial purposes.
NRDC and its partners make unsubstantiated statements that the SRSCs “illegally diverted water,” and that there was “federal mismanagement of limited water supplies.” In fact 2015 was one of the most carefully managed years in recent history with an operations plan that was approved by the State Water Resources Control Board, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the National Marine Fisheries Service with real time meetings occurring to ensure that operations were protective of fish. NRDC’s own attorneys admit and reference these meetings and consultations in their litigation papers.
This court filing is another example of NRDC’s exclusive and very limited focus on litigation. Rather than work collaboratively with the SRSCs to develop creative new projects that actually benefit fish and the environment, NRDC and its partners have proven, once again, that their only approach to environmental challenges is to file more lawsuits.
In contrast, the SRSCs have collaborated with solution-oriented environmental organizations to manage water along the Sacramento River for the benefit of salmon and birds. These organizations include American Rivers, The Nature Conservancy, California Trout, Audubon California, Ducks Unlimited, California Waterfowl Association, Point Blue and many others. The Sacramento Valley Salmon Recovery Program is one of these innovative programs. This collaboration is all devoted to providing water for the environment, the economy and the communities of the Sacramento Valley.
The SRSCs and Reclamation cannot manage water for only one purpose as suggested by NRDC’s new legal filings. Instead, the SRSCs will continue to work with the federal and state agencies to manage water resources in the Sacramento Valley for multiple beneficial purposes that include water for cities, rural communities, farms, fish and wildlife and their habitats.