REACTIONS to State of California’s announcement of intent to litigate

Yesterday, the California Natural Resources Agency released the draft environmental documents for the state process to permit State Water Project operations and announced litigation challenging the federal biological opinion for State Water Project and Central Valley Project operations.

Here’s reaction from water agencies.  More will be added as the day progresses, should any more be received.

From the Bureau of Reclamation:

In light of Governor Newsom’s announcement regarding the State of California’s intent to sue the federal government on the Central Valley Project (CVP) and the State Water Project (SWP), please see the below statement from Brenda Burman, Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation:

”From the beginning, we’ve been focused on cooperative solutions with the State of California to bring reliable water supplies to farms, families, communities and the environment. Today’s announcement by Governor Newsom is disappointing in his preference to have judges dictate these important projects instead of the career professionals at the federal and state levels who have developed a plan based on the best science and significant input from the public. If that’s their choice, we’ll see them in court.”


The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation oversees the CVP. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, National Marine Fisheries Agency, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have all worked closely with the state on the biological opinions since reinitiation was announced in August of 2016. As such, the final biological opinions included significant modifications based upon the state’s feedback.

When the Bureau of Reclamation and California’s Department of Water Resources requested reinitiation, they recognized in 2016 that there was a need to explore potential alternatives to operating the CVP and SWP and to take advantage of advancements in our scientific knowledge. Without question, the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinions represent the best available science and included two independent peer reviews.

From Congressman Kevin McCarthy:

“I am extremely disappointed, but not surprised, by the Newsom Administration’s decision to initiate litigation against the recently finalized Federal biological opinions. The Newsom Administration’s rhetoric “to turn the page on old binaries” and toward a new inclusive water agenda is disingenuous, especially considering that state officials were in the room during the development of the Federal biological opinions. Two-thirds of Californians live below the Delta, and the Governor’s lawsuit threatens their ability to receive water from up north, and California’s own Sustainable Groundwater Management Act prohibits the pumping of water from the ground, further hurting California’s families.

Collaboration using the best science available, not litigation, is the only way to turn the page on the water fights of the past. I urge the Governor not to succumb to special interests that oppose agriculture and development, and instead withdraw this litigation and work with all stakeholders toward common-sense solutions for both the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project that ensure our communities get the water we contract and pay for.”

From Metropolitan Water District:

From Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California:

“We as a state and nation find ourselves in a highly charged political environment on many issues, including natural resources, yet both governments operate water projects in the Delta to maintain the California economy that must coexist on a daily basis. We have a fabric of agreements and regulations that have managed this coexistence peacefully and orderly for decades.

Today the state agencies have outlined a workable path to crafting a state permit to dictate operations of the State Water Project under state Endangered Species law. Likewise, we believe that the recent federal biological opinion under the federal Endangered Species Act advances important new ways to adapt fishery protections and water operations based on real-time information.

The state and federal governments have more in common than differences in terms of approaches to managing these projects. Finding that common ground is more important today than ever, or real progress in water policy in California will be simply impossible.”

From Restore the Delta:

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta said:

“We are happy to hear that the California Natural Resources Agency has determined that operating rules for the Federal water project are not scientifically adequate and that the state will be pursuing litigation against the Trump administration.

“We thank Governor Newsom, Secretary Crowfoot and Secretary Blumenfield for taking our concerns seriously. As always we will read newly released documents by the state for the State Water project with a critical eye on behalf of the estuary and Delta communities. We will see if they meet protective standards. We will then turn our critical eye towards future evaluation of the voluntary agreements as well. We will share our future findings.”

Joint statement from the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, Friant Water Authority, and Tehama Colusa Canal Authority:

The State of California today announced its intent to pursue litigation challenging the sufficiency of Endangered Species Act protections in the 2019 Federal Biological Opinions.

“We are disappointed with the decision of the State to announce its intent to turn away from cooperation and rely instead on litigation to address its concerns.

We share the belief that scientifically based, collaborative processes are the future of California’s water management and will lead to common solutions to end decades of litigation that have failed to produce meaningful results for California’s communities or its fisheries.

The new Biological Opinions are more protective than past Biological Opinions and utilize the best scientific and commercial data available. These new Opinions underwent two independent peer reviews that upheld their findings. The California Department of Water Resources has collaborated with the federal agencies in the development of the biological opinions and provided significant input that has been incorporated by their federal partners.

Throughout the development of the Biological Opinions, the State has had numerous opportunities to pinpoint any deficiencies they believe exist, and the proposed action being evaluated was modified to address concerns expressed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. It is critically important that the State identify the deficiencies that they believe can only be resolved through litigation.

Any outstanding issues could have been resolved in a collaborative approach, and it is unfortunate that the State is indicating an intent to litigate instead of pursuing a more cooperative approach. This return to litigation raises concerns about our ability to pursue meaningful adaptive management strategies in the Voluntary Agreement process and threatens the good faith negotiations that have taken place to this point.

Public water agencies that contract to receive Central Valley Project water are committed to moving forward collaboratively, seeking measurable successes and ending species management by litigation, which has not only failed to produce results for Californians, but has pushed species and ecosystems to the breaking point.”

From the Southern California Water Coalition:

“Our message is simple. It is imperative that the state of California and the federal government work together to operate the water system in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and modernize it for the future. Twenty-five million Californians depend on it.

Today’s announcement of litigation by the state against the new federal biological opinions will challenge the ability of both governments to work closely together going forward. Yet, their approaches to managing the existing water systems with adaptive, real-time operations share more similarities than differences.

The Southern California Water Coalition urges the two administrations to resolve these issues through collaboration, not in the courtroom.”

Charles Wilson
Executive Director
Southern California Water Coalition

From the State Water Contractors:

Today, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) released a Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to support the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) permit for the long-term operation of the State Water Project (SWP). The purpose of a CESA permit is to allow for incidental take of threatened and endangered species during otherwise lawful activities, such as the delivery of water. The CESA permit is expected to include criteria for State Water Project operations that minimize and fully mitigate State Water Project operational impacts. The Draft EIR includes several alternatives for operations, including a Proposed Project.

In addition, the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) and California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) announced actions related to the operation of the SWP, including the state’s intention to file litigation against federal government agencies over the proposed biological opinions issued on October 22 for the long-term operation of the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) and the SWP.

“We appreciate DWR for advancing the State Water Project CESA permit process. The Proposed Project reflects scientific research and information that has been developed over the last decade since the current permit was issued, includes the operational flexibility we need under climate change hydrology while maintaining critical species protections, and includes true adaptive management to ensure the continued application of best available science in the operations of the State Water Project. These permit conditions are critical as the state works to improve water management to meet the needs of our environment and the millions of Californians that depend on it every day.


“However, we are disappointed that the state’s concerns related to the federal biological opinions weren’t worked out around the negotiating table as opposed to being pursued through litigation. We are concerned about the impact any litigation may have on the Voluntary Agreements process, state and federal water project operations and other collaborative joint efforts to address issues in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.”

Jennifer Pierre
General Manager
State Water Contractors

Daily emailsSign up for daily email service and you’ll never miss a post!

Sign up for daily emails and get all the Notebook’s aggregated and original water news content delivered to your email box by 9AM. Breaking news alerts, too. Sign me up!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email