REACTIONS to California’s lawsuit against the feds over the biological opinions

At the end of last week, Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit challenging the new biological opinions governing the operations of the federal and state water projects.  Here are the few reactions I received:

From Secretary Bernhardt at the Department of the Interior:

“Our team of career professionals did a great job using the best available science to develop new operational plans for the coordinated operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project. The governor and attorney general just launched a ship into a sea of unpredictable administrative and legal challenges regarding the most complex water operations in the country, something they have not chartered before. Litigation can lead to unpredictable twists and turns that can create significant challenges for the people of California who depend on the sound operation of these two important water projects.”

From the Golden Gate Salmon Association:

On February 20 California attorney general Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit challenging new federal water diversion and pumping rules for the Central Valley Project.  By this action, California joins GSSA and our allies in court challenging the new federal rules which, if implemented, would cause great damage to the state’s biggest salmon runs and the environment.

The AG’s lawsuit finds, among other things the new Trump water diversion rules “acknowledges the high extinction risk for winter-run Chinook salmon. NMFS, however, then permits changes in South Delta exports and Old and Middle River (OMR) flows that will indisputably result in more entrainment and other harm to listed salmon.”

This means that while the federal government admits that winter run salmon are at risk of going extinct, they still allow big increases in water diversions in the Delta that will further harm these salmon as well as other wildlife.

Statement from John McManus, president, Golden State Salmon Association:

“Fishermen and women, and the tens of thousands working in the salmon industry throughout California, especially in rural areas, are very grateful to Attorney General Xavier Becerra for his bold action to support our salmon runs, our industry and overall ecological health of the Central Valley, the Delta and San Francisco Bay.  We thank Governor Newsom for the legal challenge and ask that he order the Department of Water Resources to rework its permit application under state law to pump Delta water so it too is protective of our salmon runs and the overall environment.  This needs to be done in accordance with the best science which clearly says that more, not less, wildlife protections are needed.”

From the Kern County Water Agency:

Yesterday, the State of California filed a lawsuit against the federal government to prevent the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from implementing the new Biological Opinions issued this week.  The Biological Opinions establish rules to protect fish species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and are necessary to allow the State Water Project (SWP) to operate.

The SWP supplies irrigation water to more than 730,000 acres of farmland and provides all the drinking water for more than 150,000 residents of the Bakersfield metropolitan area.

“We are disappointed to learn of the State’s decision to sue the federal government.  Prior to today the State was working collaboratively with the federal government, and stakeholders from the water supply and environmental communities,” said Kern County Water Agency Board of Directors President Royce Fast.  “We are concerned that the State’s action signals a return to litigation that will stall or end those discussions,” said Fast.

In addition to the biological opinions, the SWP requires a permit from the State Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) and compliance with the State Water Resources Control Board’s Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan.  The State and federal governments have been leading discussions to update the Bay-Delta Plan through Voluntary Agreements that build on the Biological Opinions and the permit DFW will issue in March.  The State’s lawsuit draws into question the Biological Opinions as the basis for those discussions.

“We are hopeful that the State can quickly address its issues with the federal government and return its full attention to the collaborative discussions on Voluntary Agreements,” said Fast.

From the State Water Contractors:

Yesterday, California filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco challenging the federal Biological Opinions covering the coordinated long-term operations of the Central Valley Project (CVP) and State Water Project (SWP). The lawsuit was filed within hours of the completed National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process to update the CVP and SWP Biological Opinions for federal Endangered Species Act compliance.

The complaint alleges that the Biological Opinions are unlawful in that they do not provide adequate protection for several endangered or threatened fish species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The State Water Contractors (SWC) has long supported a resolution to the water and species management issues in the Delta region through collaboration, and the application of science-based decision-making and regulations. Over the last several months, state and federal agencies have been working to find common ground for the benefit of California’s people, farms and fish, all of whom depend on these water resources. The 2019 Biological Opinions incorporate the best available science that enables better real time management to improve fishery protections and water supply. Ongoing discussions can also help to ensure a common understanding on how the protective provisions in the Biological Opinions will be integrated into CVP and SWP operations.

“Based on the complaint filed by the state, it is clear that these issues are resolvable. We appreciate the state’s need to understand exactly how the provisions of the 2019 Biological Opinions – which reflect over a decade of research on the operations of the CVP and SWP – will be implemented to ensure the necessary protections,” said Jennifer Pierre, General Manager of the State Water Contractors. “We encourage the public servants at both the federal and state levels – who have thus far demonstrated an ability and willingness to solve problems together – to get back to the negotiating table and settle these issues. The outcome of those successful discussions will be far more effective than anything arising from a lawsuit that may take several years to resolve.”


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